Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Don’t worry about it

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I was alone in a sketchy part of town pumping gas when a man approached me asking for money.  Typically, this kind of thing wigs me out.  It seems like a prelude to ending up on an episode of the evening news that you’ll never get to watch.

He explained that he needed to put gas in his car. Pulling out handfuls of change from his pockets, he showed me what he already collected.

It looked like enough to buy a Slim Jim and a pack of gum, but not a gallon of gas.

I didn’t say much.  I asked him where his car was and followed him to the other side of the station.  A woman sat in the badly beat up car and he told me that he was embarrassed to be asking for help in front of her.

With a swipe of my card, relief registered on his face.  As his car guzzled gas, he told me how he was on his way to a job interview that afternoon and he just needed enough gas to make it there.  He thanked me and said he wished there was some way he could repay me.

I thought of responding with something profound like “pay it forward,” but I was still having trouble finding my words.

Instead, I casually said, “Don’t worry about it,” smiled and walked away.  I drove off feeling heady, that I did something nice for someone despite my initial hesitations.

Words kept playing like a loop in my mind – repay you, don’t worry about it, wish I could, don’t worry about it. 

I understood.

Someone recently did something nice for me that I can’t repay.  It didn’t involve money, simply time and expertise.  Without getting into details, I was as much humbled by this as I was grateful.

There was no win-win, quid pro-quo, or expectation for reciprocity, only generosity.

I’m not the type of person who needs to do everything for myself either.  I am happy to sit on the couch and have you bring me a bowl of ice cream.  As my husband can attest, I don’t think twice about this kind of gesture.

Perhaps, it’s only when I am incapable of doing something without help, that I suddenly become self-conscious accepting it.  Experiencing someone’s sincere generosity is both gratifying and overwhelming. It is humbling when someone helps us in a meaningful way simply out of goodness without looking for recognition or repayment.

Most of the time I am okay with humility, but that’s because I tend to look at it in terms of a silver highlight in my hair that I didn’t pay for – not a reliance on someone else.  But truthfully, we do rely on others.  As self-sufficient as we aspire to be there are times when we need help, and true wisdom dictates that we have the humility to accept it.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  James 4:6

I thought of the person whom I helped, and again, of the one who helped me.  I remember the words I chose when he expressed his gratitude – don’t worry about it.

I meant them.  I wasn’t looking for repayment – our paths would likely never cross again.  But I also get what it feels like to wish you could repay someone and have to surrender to the fact that you can’t.

We tend to think of generosity in terms of money, but there is so much that we can give one another that has nothing to do with wads of cash.  There is our talent, our knowledge, our words of praise and encouragement.  The need may not be as obvious as a panhandler, but it could indeed be as great.  If we are not open to serving others, then we may inadvertently ignore the plight of people we care dearly about.

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want,” Proverbs 11:24

Sometimes I am shocked at how stingy people can be — and not with money either.  But with the way they hold back kind words as if they are flies stuck on a glue trap.  Acknowledge, enlighten and encourage.  It’s really not that hard.  It’s free and it’s priceless.

It frustrates me because there are days when I badly need a kind word.   And yet, there it stubbornly sits on the end of another’s tongue never to be set free.

Perhaps I am being too harsh when more than likely, there is no ill-will meant.  I am as guilty as anyone of being self-absorbed.  It seems to be counter culture to not focus on your own pursuits, needs, interests and feelings.  Yet, I realize that when I focus too much time inward, I lose sight of what’s upward – the call to serve God by serving others.

God is incredibly generous with us.  He gave us His only son on the chance that we may someday be redeemed from our own sins and be with Him in heaven.

Nothing I ever say will compare to that level of generosity.  Nor is there anything I can do with my life that will ever be so grand to repay that kind of sacrifice.  And, I don’t think He would want me to worry about that either.  He wants my love and devotion and He is worthy of it.  He doesn’t want me to serve Him because of my debt.  He’s just not that kind of God.

We can’t always pay back the people in this world that are kind to us either.   Sometimes we simply have to accept with gratitude and humility that there is goodness in this world and that somehow we were blessed enough to be touched by it.

Generosity has a way of traveling on, long after we have reached our destination.  The death and resurrection of Jesus taught us that.  So as I journey through life, I aspire to be generous whenever I can — including ways that have nothing to do with money.

And when I can’t, when I find myself blessed on the receiving end of a gift, I will simply smile, thank God and perhaps utter those reassuring words my humble heart needs to hear — don’t worry about it.

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

25 thoughts on “Don’t worry about it

  1. What you did is a mitzvah. Not up to snuff about the Psalm references but it certainly warrants a Mazel Tov. Making a donation or doing a kind act is second nature to you which few achieve. Sometimes I’m on that level, but when we gave a Bar Mitzvah gift to twins on behalf of a charity, I was expecting a thank you note. Received it and initially felt good until my wife said “the mom wrote it.” That kind of sucked but I know it will go to good use which is what counts. Keep up the great work and hope you never have to get off the couch and get your own ice cream.

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    • Norm,

      My yiddish is limited, but thank you for the Mazel Tov! You are right to want a thank you note from the person you honored with a donation not the mother 😦 but it doesn’t take away your generous gesture or from the people the gift is intended to help. I will let my husband know that you don’t want me to have to get my own ice cream — wondering if there is a Jewish word for yum?!

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  2. What a beautiful post. Beautiful to me because I had someone show me a kindness similar to this situation you’re describing.
    My husband had been out of work for 9 months and we had come to a point where we just didn’t have enough money to run the car.I had been catching the bus to work. We were awaiting an cheque and living on ‘fumes’ until the end of the week. On a morning during this time I had scanned in my Oyster card (top up card to pay for London transport) and I heard the dreaded beeping noise that announces that there is no money left on the card. I looked in my purse, but could only make up half of the bus fare. At this point I felt a little desperate as the bus driver was starting to get antsy, and I became all too aware of the fact that the other passengers were waiting for the bus to move on, when suddenly a woman came up behind me an put the £2.40 on the counter with ,’Don’t worry, I know what life can be like’.
    I felt completely overwhelmed and thanked her sincerely. If I hadn’t caught that bus I would’ve been late for work. I will never forget the feeling of relief and immense gratitude, and also a sense of someone with a kindred spirit who understands that sometimes life can be really difficult. She’d made a fundamental difference to my day.

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    • 1catholicsalmon ~ Thank you for sharing your personal experience being on the receiving end of someone’s generosity. I love that someone came along so to help you and that she was so remarkably understanding and compassionate. Your testimony is a gift and example to why and how we should give. Thank you!

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  3. Good Job Lara. I am enjoying your blog. reminded me of this.
    Matthew 25:35
    For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

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  4. When I first started to read this I was worried. I was thinking that this person wants money not gas. How cynical of me? You did the noble thing. I have to say that telling him not to worry about it was more of a gift than the gas. A kind gift without payment is the best gift to receive. You also made it sound like it is the best gift to give. Good for you.

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    • Lynn~ It’s not cynical of you. I don’t like being approached by strangers especially when I am by myself. I don’t know why I did it, but somehow I understood how badly we sometimes need a break. (You know I am speaking of myself here!) I really did want to say something more profound, but you are right a gift without repayment is the best kind to receive. And, ultimately, the best to give.

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  5. Hey Lara. I have been sharing these with Michael and he says you should make a book using  each of your blog entries 🙂 When you do, we would like an autographed copy please!!

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    • Julie Anna,

      What a nice compliment! I wish more people felt like you then at the end of the year it wouldn’t be a homemade book on shutterfly that I am autographing! It is an encouraging sentiment though, and comes on a day when I need one! So thank you 🙂 and I am honored Michael is reading them too!

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  6. I love this… it’s a reminder that we need to be open to doing for others – both those in great apparent need (the man who needed gas) and those who may need something more subtly. You never know when a kind word, smile, or ‘good morning’ will mean the world to someone… thank you for reminding us.

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    • Jeanette ~ so true. I think many of us are in need of kind words and encouragement. Your comment made me think of how we often ask others, how are you doing and don’t always wait for a reply. (I don’t know why it made me think of this, but it did.) Listening to others may be subtle but can also be a tremendous gift. It is a huge component to being open to others.

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  7. Lara,
    Love the post. I remember my father was disappointed that I wanted to be a social worker when I graduated college. He reminded me that my lifestyle would change, and that career choice was going to leave me struggling. He was worried about me because he new I had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle where it money was not an obstacle and I could always buy mostly what I wanted.

    I remember telling him thank you and I gave him a hug! I told him that he given to me more than I ever expected, and I was very appreciative. I also told him that this was not the place for me, meaning his lifestyle. I wanted to help the poor, the children that were being abused, the mother who could not feed her children, and the mother who was dying, but wanted to make sure her daughter was taken care of, the children that were abandoned because parents did not want them anymore or the teenagers ran away from home from abuse, kicked out because of their sexual preference, or the teens that tried to commit suicide because of their sexual preference, and or physical abuse. I felt this is where I needed to be because I wanted to make a difference and giving up the financial l security or making that my goal was the last thing on my mind.

    The undertaking I searched for took me to places that opened my eyes. I was scared sometimes for these people, sad for them, angry because no one seemed to care about their struggles, fustrated by others who pass judgement, confused by their decisions and frightened for my own safety. ( had a woman pull out a knife, and another woman who laid a gun on a table). Of course this is enough to scare most people, but my case it motivated me more. I also knew that not everyone was like that, therefore I refused to be done with this journey. There were adults and children that needed me, and I was going to be there regardless. In my mind I was trying to save them. My safety and my sanity were not a priority.

    My father predicted that I would struggle and I am. I would do it all over again, because the feeling of helping someone is priceless.I was not looking for a raise in my paycheck or being paid back from the people I had helped. I wanted to save as children, teens, adults and families and show them that there are people out there that care and really want to help without expecting a thing.

    I miss my career, and plan to go back one day, as I know that God, is not through with me helping people just yet. I comforted many children and teens that were abuse, and neglect. I got attached to everyone I worked with (BIG NO NO) My shoulder was use to to cry on many times, and of course I would use theirs to do the same. My job was to help, and that was easy since all I expected was nothing in return.
    thank you LARA!!

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    • Raquel~

      Thank you for sharing your insight and experience. What you wrote shows your passion, sincerity and commitment to answering the call to serve. And how inspiring that you chose to be true to yourself, your heart and the many who need you by choosing social work as a profession instead of something more lucrative. I know that your father meant well when he was trying to guide you, but you seemed to know yourself well enough to understand what would fulfill you. That in itself is a gift.

      How lucky those people in their desperate situations were to have you – someone who truly cared for their well-being, treated them with dignity and gave them hope. I can’t think of a better example of imitating Christ. I pray that in your time and in His that you will return to the devotion of your calling. In the meantime, I am so grateful to you for sharing such profound experiences.

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  8. Oh , how your recent blog makes me remember my father’s words to me after coming to the realization that all the love, money, time, advice, etc. that he had given so unselfishly could NEVER be repaid -he simply said “I hope and pray that when you have children you will do the same”. Wise words that at the time made me feel “off the hook” for all the Catholic education, roof over my head, clothes, shoes, braces, college education…. then years later when a husband and children were a reality the words kept ringing in my ears when it was time for me to sacrifice for my family.Thanks again, Lara! Love You!

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    • Mary Jo,

      Thank you for sharing that perspective. It’s true as parents we give unselfishly, as we love unconditionally. And we honor our parents best when we pay the lessons they taught us forward to a new generation. How very cool 🙂 Thanks for the insight (and the warm memories.)

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  9. This is a really nice post. Makes me want to pay it foward. I have some friends who whenever they go out to eat, they pay for another person’s meal.

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    • Stephin — thank you. I am glad you liked it, and I appreciate you sharing about your friends. That is very inspiring – not just because of what they are doing which is obviously so generous but to do whenever they go to eat serves as such a good reminder to think of others. I love the habit aspect of their good deed 🙂

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  10. One of my friends posted this quote on her FB page and I immediately thought of your blog post. To be the one remembered should be the goal. I think you are on your way, Lara.

    “Each of us can look back upon someone who made a great difference in our lives, someone whose wisdom or simple acts of caring made an impression upon us. In all likelihood it was someone who sought no recognition for their deed other than the joy of knowing that, by their hand, another’s life had been made better.” — Stephen M. Wolf

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    • Helen,

      You are so kind to share such a beautiful quote, although it was your own words that truly touched me. I am so grateful to have people like you reading, it makes me feel like this project matters. And what a blessing to do something that does.

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  11. Again, such inspiration. Thank you from my heart for sharing your gift of words and wisdom with us. Kriss Herndon

    Kriss

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