Avoiding the Wrong Track

track_e1305540301619I remember a turning-point moment during my “thirty-something” years. I was chatting with one of the other moms at my children’s school. She began to talk about her divorce and the problems she was facing. My mind ran through a list of all the ways I might help. Could I babysit her kids? Provide transportation? Maybe even invite her to live with us? A lifetime of training in “love your neighbor” had prepared me to offer my services without a second thought. But as I opened my mouth to speak, a sinking sensation reminded me to face facts. For instance, the fact that I had already made similar offers to a number of other people—more offers than I could responsibly fulfill.

I closed my mouth. I liked this woman and wanted to help her. But my plate was already full.

It was very difficult for me to stand there, expressing sympathy, without offering to do anything. I felt I was being rude. How could I say I cared, when I wasn’t willing to help?

To my surprise, she wasn’t disappointed in me. By the time she finished telling me her troubles, she seemed to feel better. When she said a cheerful goodbye and went on her way, it finally dawned on me that she hadn’t been trying to ask for help. Not even hinting. It hadn’t crossed her mind. She had just wanted someone to listen while she processed her thoughts.

That’s how I began to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around me. People are very resourceful and can usually take care of themselves.

I learned something else, that day, about my own motivations. My urge to help was more about making the offer than about actually doing anything useful. I wanted the momentary thrill of being a hero, offering solutions. Once the moment had passed, I was glad I hadn’t taken on any new commitments. I didn’t actually want to babysit my friend’s kids or drive them around. I just wanted credit for making the offer.

This incident provides a clue for how we can know whether a new opportunity is compatible with our love mission. If my reward for doing something is mainly the ego-boost of being seen doing it, then I’m probably on the wrong track.

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