I recently had the opportunity to participate in CPC’s annual “Serve Day”. This is a time set aside by the church for stepping out into the community, and putting God’s love into action through volunteering and acts of service.
The experience brought a sense of deep fulfillment, and with that fulfillment came guilt. Volunteering shouldn’t be about me, after all. And to feel so good was selfish. Or was it?
These mixed emotions- and from what I understand, I’m not alone in having them- point to something important about the nature of serving. That being, acts of service often give as much (if not more) to the giver, as they do the receiver. I don’t think it makes us bad to acknowledge this, but perhaps helps us understand God better. To paraphrase a quote I read recently: God (and his love) is a beautiful and unique gift- the more of him we give away, the more of him we receive. Such reciprocity is intentional and praiseworthy.
With this, here’s a small taste of the ways serving our community “gives back” to us in a way that promotes mental and emotional health:
1. Cultivating Connection
There is a strong correlation between emotional/mental health and connection. Community service is an excellent way to get to know people who share our interests and experiences, as well as those who offer an entirely different set of perspectives. This can bolster our support systems, expand our awareness and knowledge base, and push us to grow in new and unexpected ways. It can pull us out of emotional ruts, help combat the effects of depression and anxiety, and serves as a reminder that we don’t have to be alone.
2. Developing Emotional Resiliency
Acts of service remind us of our efficacy, cultivate a sense of accomplishment, and give us a sense of purpose and meaning. In so doing, we move away from seeing ourselves as powerless over (or victims of) our circumstances and emotions, to recognizing we are fully capable beings with the power to choose how we’re going to respond in life. We put the brakes on the tendency to dwell on things we can’t do or feel beyond our control, learning we have the ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down.
3. Gaining perspective (It’s easy to lose sight of the forest when we get caught in the trees)
While I’m always an advocate for feeling your true feelings- anxiety and shame love it when we mask our emotions- we sometimes run the risk of getting stuck in a downward emotional spiral. This helps no one. To break the spin, it’s imperative we move outside of ourselves. For one thing, healthy distractions like community service give us physical and mental distance from our problems until we feel emotionally ready to pick them up again. Additionally, it places our experiences into the context of the larger world, shedding a light on the true magnitude of the issue, and helping us move from grumbling to gratitude (if we’re open to it).