Why do we do kind things for others?
Whether it’s helping out at a soup kitchen or just listening to a friend who’s having a bad day, what is our motivation?
In my community, people enjoy giving their time to a number of volunteer organizations in town. And that’s great.
But sometimes, I wonder what motivates such acts of kindness. Is it just to achieve that warm fuzzy feeling that comes over you when other people are better off because of you? Or is there another agenda/motivation at work?
Any time I work with a volunteer organization, I can’t help but notice that there’s always a moment when the spirit of unconditional helpfulness starts to break down. People start to argue. They start to complain. It starts to become clear that, by helping, they believed they were entering into some kind of bargain…and now they feel that they’ve been cheated.
It’s the same way with friendships and relationships too. We all have that friend who will do absolutely anything for people they care about. That’s a beautiful thing.
But when someone else can’t return that devotion in kind, we get angry. We feel burned. Why did we waste our time on such a person when they were so unworthy?
Philosophers have often asked the question whether it’s possible for humans to be purely altruistic. Are we capable of doing kind acts without the expectation of a return?
Based on my own experiences and observations, I would have to say yes…but only to a point.
After that point, we can no longer sustain kindness simply for the sake of kindness. We need to receive something in return for it…usually intangible things like love, respect, or control. We need these intangible rewards, because we are frail humans who can’t sustain our efforts for very long without them. And God knows this. Even Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
In our own feeble power, we can’t administer the same kind of unconditional love and kindness that God shows to us. After a while, when we don’t get anything in return, we feel resentful, even angry. We feel hurt, rejected, and betrayed when our love, kindness, or volunteerism is not returned in the same spirit in which it was offered.
There is this wonderful gift that Christians have access to, known as the “Holy Spirit.” If you have ever met anyone who was truly powered by that Spirit, you could probably tell. That person had boundless energy for treating others with kindness. They always had a smile. When you are in their presence, you feel like you are bathed in warmth and unconditional regard. If you accidentally said or did something hurtful, they forgave you immediately. And they weren’t shy about telling you that God was the reason for their goodness, that they wouldn’t be able to do it on their own.
We all know people like that…and it is a prime example of the Holy Spirit at work.
In the New Testament, the apostles who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did all kinds of amazing, supernatural things. They healed lepers and demoniacs, they escaped from prisons, they faced persecution and eventually martyrdom with true forgiveness in their hearts.
Could they have done these things without the Holy Spirit? No. The New Testament stories show that, before they received the Holy Spirit, they were just regular people, trying their best to earn a living on the shores of Galilee. They were suspicious, blunt, tactless, often unkind. They had their own personal agendas and motivations. In the end, it was God’s Holy Spirit that transformed them.
Do you truly want to love others unconditionally, as God loves them? Do you want to give your time and energy without care for the outcome?
Do you want to be purely altruistic?
Unless you are ready to invite the Holy Spirit into your heart.
And then…we have all the power of God at our disposal.