What kind of giving could give more joy to the giver? Is it giving which has no conditions whatsoever, especially if you have seen and felt the real needs of those who would receive the aid or assistance? Or would it always be necessary to put steep requirements or conditions before one could avail of the aid?
All of us have experienced, at times, the warm glow that comes from performing a good deed and getting credit for it. But there is a special kind of satisfaction that comes from doing good and keeping it secret. Those who practice this have experienced inner joy at its finest.
Recently, I read of a man who went to an understaffed orphanage every Wednesday afternoon to spend an hour or two entertaining the youngsters—doing card tricks, telling stories, giving the overseer rest and freedom as he volunteered. When the curious tried to discover his identity, the stranger would only say, “That’s not important.” Also on the same breath there was an elderly stranger who appeared one day at a hospital, saying, “I know you must have many odd jobs that need doing. Let me help.”
For four months he performed countless menial tasks, like sweeping the floor and parking lot, removing dirt from laundry. Once asked for his name, he just smiled back and shook his head, “If you knew who I am, you will just feel obligated. That would spoil it.” Only when he had moved away from the hospital did they learn that he was a former vice president of a big company.
The way of true giving does not come naturally. It must be cultivated, for it goes against our human ego. We want others to recognize any act that we consider especially noble or unselfish. When such recognition is not coming, we’re tempted to call attention to it. In so doing, we often discover that the deed has been devalued by suspicion that it was done, at least partly, by some credit we desire.
Also, in our eagerness to help, we sometimes fail to realize how embarrassing our gift may be to the sensitive or how heavy upon the recipient may seem the obligation of gratitude. Doing good anonymously avoids this pitfalls.
Jesus was the supreme preacher and practitioner of doing good secretly. He warned His followers to “Take heed that you do not your alms to be seen of men.” After healing the leper He sternly told him, “See that you tell no man” and he left the scene immediately.
As a minister, I am constantly coming upon people who, unknown to others, are devoting themselves to little deeds of secret kindness. Invariably, they are happy, serene people. Secret giving need not be costly in either time or money. It calls only for a keen eye and an understanding heart.
I can think of a doctor who, knowing that one of his patients needed certain expensive medicine he could not afford arranged with a wholesale drug firm to send the required drug with a “sample” label pasted on it. I think also of a friend who makes a hobby of writing unsigned but encouraging letters to men in public life who in his estimate, are performing with integrity despite stinging criticism. His theory: for the most part, politicians get letters of appreciation only from people who want something in return. They get only anonymous letters from those who want to blow off steam when angry. “Why not,” he asked, “blow off a little appreciation as well with no strings attached?”
Those who do good quietly and without thought of reward are the ones who understand what one author meant when he wrote that the best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless and unremembered acts of kindness and of love. It is amazing how much good can be done in this world if one does not care if he gets the credit and how it can make one’s life glow with happiness.
The bottom line of doing good to our fellowmen is this: “It is not what we are saying, but what we are doing, that counts.”