I was visiting a friend in the hospital. I would love to tell you I was there because that’s just the kind of guy I am: one who visits others in the hospital, but that would be a lie. Truth be told, I had been having quite a pity party for myself. I had just lost my largest customer to a competitor, my retirement investments had taken a major hit in the market, I was worried about having to let some employees go in a bad economy, my car had logged 200,000 miles and was making funny noises, my son was developing a real attitude (and growing a Mohawk) – you get the idea.
While griping about all of this at a family gathering, my ever-wise mother-in-law looked me square in the eye and said, “David, sounds like you need to get your eyes off yourself.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Whenever I feel down, I just go and find somebody who is worse off than me, and I help them in some way,” she said. “You know what happens? My problems seem to shrink and I become very grateful for my blessings.”
Her words became the motivation to go to the hospital to visit a friend who was recovering from an illness. While I was there, a nurse came into the room and asked me to step out for a few minutes so she could take care of some tasks. I didn’t even want to know what that might entail – bedpans, bandages, and blood are all things I will gladly avoid.
So I began to roam the halls of the hospital. I wandered past the over-priced gift shop and meandered by the cafeteria. Eventually, I stumbled upon the interfaith chapel.
I pushed open the door, adorned with stained glass, and peeked inside. It was empty, so I stepped in. There was soft music playing, several rows of chairs, an altar with a kneeling pad, and a cross on the front wall with a table below it. On the table was a basket full of little cards upon which people had written their prayers.
Like a moth to light, I was drawn to the cards in the basket. I felt a little guilty as I picked one up, but I began to read it anyway: “If there is any way you can heal my baby, please, I beg you, do it.”
I picked up another: “Please take this away from my wife and give it to me.”
Card after card I read, my heart aching for people I would never know. Tears began to stream down my face as I continued to read. And then I came across a card I will never forget. Scrawled with a blue crayon were these words:
“Dear God, Please let Mommy live until Christmas. Love, Jenny”
My mother-in-law was right. Suddenly, I didn’t have any problems. I thought I had gone to the hospital to “help” someone else who was worse off than me, you know, to “give” of myself. And while my friend was touched that I had come to wish him well, I was the one who came away from the visit full. I received way more than I gave. That’s the secret that all givers know…in giving, you get.