The payment of volunteering

The Rose gives of its fragrance simply because it is a Rose

The Holy Land is associated with one main river and two lakes. The river is the famous Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It begins on the slopes of Mt Hermon, near the Syrian border, and then flows down into the Sea of Galilee. Its name means the Descender and it again continues its descent until it enters the lowest spot on the face of the earth known as the Dead Sea. Those who visit the Holy Land are amazed at the contrast between these two lakes that are a relatively short distance apart. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake that just teems with life. The fish are plentiful and the only ones who seemed to have had difficulty catching them were the early apostles. Everything about the Lake speaks of vibrancy and beauty. In the Dead Sea, on the other hand, the River Jordan flows in but has no outlet, and so the water evaporates leaving behind vast quantities of salt. It’s really more a landlocked lake rather than a sea. No fish or wildlife can exist there and so it’s simply dead apart from some strange micro-organisms. For tourists who can read a newspaper while floating on this salt rich water it’s a source of fascination, but it also offers in a geographical manner a very profound message about the nature of life.

We are like the Sea of Galilee. We receive from what comes before us and our lives are enriched by what we receive. So our lives can be fruitful and enjoyable to the extent that few want it to end. A man in his 80’s was diagnosed with a condition that was somewhat serious and the doctor tried to reassure him by saying ‘you will be fine for several years and after all who wants to live to be a hundred?’ The man wasn’t impressed and replied, ‘Everyone I know who is 99!’ In a truly fruitful and happy life, like the Sea of Galilee, there is a healthy balance between receiving and giving; life flows in and life flows out and in between life happens in abundance. There is a spirit of gratitude for what we have received and hopefully a generosity of spirit with what we can give.

Christ spoke of this dynamic on so many occasions as if he was pointing to something that was fundamental to human nature and happiness. He said things like ‘As you give so you will receive; give and it will be given on to you; use wisely what you have and you will be given more, but he also said in different ways, if you don’t use it you will lose it, and by being greedy and living only for yourself you will be miserable.

This is where we can be more like the Dead Sea than the Sea of Galilee. If we don’t open up to giving and ensure that we have an outlet for giving our lives literally begin to evaporate and dry up. Like that dense salt water of the Dead Sea our spirits become heavy and everything stops flowing. It’s easy then to get into a rut, and the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth, we still have to dig our way out. We may have all the excuses in the world about not having the time to get involved while in reality its not having the heart that’s the real issue. Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time but they do have the heart.

The bottom line is that if we are only living just for ourselves and our immediate family and to heck with everyone else we are opting for a quality of life that is way below what it can be. The basic reason for this is that we are violating a basic psychological principle that it is only in giving that we can receive. Drawing too tight a circle around ourselves and our immediate family is one sure path to loneliness. It’s a trap that so many fall into.

Back in the boom years a lot of people bought into the myth that to have more is to be more and so became quite self-centered. With that drive to become more wealthy there was a sharp drop in the number of people who were volunteering and giving freely of their time and service. This time round, having survived the recession, and with the economy on the upturn, there seems to be a greater appreciation of the value of doing things without having to get paid. With a population of 5m a surprising fact is that 1m, that’s one in five are involved in some kind of voluntary work and that says a lot that life is not just about getting but it is even more about giving.

Here in our sunny south-east corner. thank God, we have an amazing body of volunteers. Without them the Pilgrimage Season would not be possible. It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of spirit that is evident in so many here. As a matter of observation, it is also evident that those with the happiest faces are those who are involved at some kind of voluntary level. Not for one minute would I suggest that the work is being done to receive some kind of payoff but the reality is that there always is, and this attests the truth that you cannot give without also receiving. A recent survey has shown that there is a strong feel-good factor in being a volunteer that is very linked to positive mental health.

In a society where there is so much isolation, volunteering is a form of social interaction where you get to know new people and make friends. For anyone who is new to the area or visiting it’s an ideal opportunity to get to know the locals. Three hours working in the Coffee Shop would help one get to know people than 3 years just living in the area.

Having a sense of belonging, feeling socially included, and being part of a team, is a deep need in everyone. That is a form of payment that is worth more than money.

To challenge oneself, extend the comfort zone, learn new skills, get better at relating socially, are also very real benefits and really boosts the self-confidence. Likewise when we are giving something back to life its as if life smiles in gratitude and we feel good about ourselves and discover a new zest for living.

Finally, being a volunteer and doing something meaningful, gives a sense of purpose and if we find ourselves in a bit of a rut it can really help lift us out of it.

It is pretty obvious that with the addition of the new Coffee Shop and Playground the numbers here are definitely on the increase. Already it’s being spoken about as one of the nicest facilities in the country and something we can be very proud of. As a community we have the privilege to be called into a ministry of hospitality and healing. That call from God is not for a chosen few but for each one of us, to the degree that we are able. There are more opportunities than ever emerging to step up to the mark and leave aside the usual excuses we so easily come up with. A long train needs a big engine and to the extent that any of us fail to play our part someone else has to take the strain. No matter how busy we are we always find time for the things we consider important otherwise we would never visit the toilet. Its really a matter of priorities, but here in this community we really need more men and women to come forward and just as Jesus issued an invitation to those early disciples to ‘come follow’ and be part of his work so in his name I am saying those same words, ‘come’. There is nothing as exciting as being part of a big vision, and as Gods plan for this Island unfolds, the opportunity is there to become an essential part of it. Like the early disciples leave your boats and your nets where they belong; say yes to what the Lord asks of you and not only will you never look back but you will never even want to.

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As the oldest Marian shrine in Ireland, Our Lady’s Island welcomes pilgrims and tourists all year round and aims to present the life-changing truths of faith in a manner and language that is appropriate to all ages in this current age.

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