(This blog is taken from Lesson 9 in Happy School Advanced.)

The concept of initiating for the benefit of others is very tricky because we are frequently ambushed by our strong preference for our favorite trio of Me, Myself, and I. It takes a concerted effort to stop and think what others want and need. The norm is that we exaggerate what we give to others and we diminish what they give to us.

One young girl (we’ll call her Kathleen) told me that her mother-in-law is always hounding her to get dressed up and go to lunch with her. The m-in-law now feels hurt as she believes Kathleen is cold and doesn’t want to grow the relationship. Although the older woman thinks she is initiating for the benefit of her d-in-law, she is not taking into account what Kathleen wants.

In contrast to this story, a good friend of mine helps her d-in-law plant shrubs in her front yard and helps her organize her kitchen. This m-i-law too decided to initiate for another’s benefit, but she gave something the d-in-law wanted. Give people ideas and choices for how you could contribute. People will let you know yay or nay.            

I talked to a young mother of many children this weekend whose mother-in-law offered to come over and help her fold clothes. The young mother didn’t want that as she said that she would now have to entertain the m-in-law and clean up her house. She said it was more work than it’s worth. The m-in-law was offended that the young girl didn’t want her offer. It’s so easy to get offended when we offer something and no one jumps on it. But remember, humility is the best characteristic. Don’t be offended. Try again and offer something else. You will find the sweet spot if you keep offering. (I’ve noticed most every young mom loves babysitting and food dropped off.)

Others know if you are sacrificing to help them. They also know if you’re merely throwing them your crumbs.

One pretty young girl (we’ll call her Nichole) was not invited to be a bridesmaid in a wedding in which she thought she would be. The bride told her she just missed the cut, as she could only have five bridesmaids. Nichole was very hurt over not being asked as they had been friends for years. At first, she was offended. But with some humility and analysis, she realized maybe she had not been as good of a friend to the bride as the girls who made the cut. Maybe she didn’t deserve to be in the top five, after all, she decided. With this realization, she decided to change and become a better friend. During the wedding, she helped in many ways, such as decorating for the wedding reception and offering to put together a playlist for the dancing. At the end of the wedding, the bride and her parents thanked her repeatedly. 

You see, you can stamp your feet that you’re not being lifted up high enough or you can overlook, gird yourself with a towel, and wash others’ feet by initiating for their benefit. 

A girl in one of my former groups (we’ll call her Madeline) has a sister who is a professional marketer. Madeline needed some help with a brand, a logo, etc. for her small home business so she asked the sister to help. The sister was a little reluctant because she’s so busy. However, the sister acquiesced and gave her a few hours of help. I said to Madeline, “Did you offer to pay her or give her a gift for her time?” Madeline was shocked. She felt like her sister owed it to her. I said, “Your sister is very busy. I would find out how much it costs to do what she did and either pay her or give her gifts that you know she would love.” Then I added, “In all your relationships, attempt to give more than you take. It keeps relationships healthy.” 

Madeline heard me. Not only did she buy her sister a nice gift certificate, but she also volunteered to babysit her kids and take their older grandmother to the doctor (which she always lets the other sister do). Her sister noticed. Madeline’s sister recently she said to me, “I can tell Madeline is maturing.” 

Everyone knows how much you give. Everyone knows if you do the minimum or if you go the second mile. Everyone knows if you show up, if you bring your part, and if you do your part. You are not smarter than this or too important. Sacrifice for others, initiate for their benefit, and be sure you give more than you take. This is powerful advice for tying heart strings around other peoples’ hearts and yours.

In the famous children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse says to the Velveteen Rabbit, “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

We don’t want to have our eyes drop out. Instead, we all want to be rich, beautiful, powerful, and smart. This is because if you’re these things, then other people are naturally drawn to you and will serve you and you won’t have to serve them. But just know, they won’t truly and deeply respect you if you don’t develop a servant’s heart. Eventually, people pull away from you when they realize you are a perpetual taker.

I know of a husband who wanted to surprise his wife for her birthday. They had recently moved to a new state, so he surprised her by having two of her close friends fly in and walk in the door at dinnertime. At the time, the wife had many little preschool children and had not yet even unpacked all the boxes. She had no idea where the guests would sleep and there definitely weren’t any clean sheets on any of the beds. She didn’t have food for her guests either and of course, she had not cleaned up. In addition, she now had to entertain for a weekend and she was already exhausted. The wife put on her best smile and was a delightful host. The whole weekend, the husband thought he was the golden boy. 

On Monday morning after the guests left, the wife said to her husband, “Please check things out with me before you make a grand gesture like this again.” He was hugely offended as he felt like she was ungrateful. Just remember that when you initiate for the benefit of others, you mustbe sure you givethem something they want.

I remember a woman in one of my groups telling me that she had made some Paleo pumpkin muffins with cream cheese icing for her daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner since the daughter had recently started a Paleo diet. When the d-in-law got to the Thanksgiving celebration, she told her m-in-law that she’s now off dairy and wouldn’t be able to eat the muffins. But the m-in-law said, “How much could one muffin hurt you? I made these especially for you.” There was actually a dispute over whether the girl was going to eat the muffins! If you initiate in an area for the benefit of another, but get it wrong, be humble and try again.

Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman starred in a movie in the 90’s called, Anywhere But Here. Susan Sarandon played the narcissistic and bi-polar mother of Natalie Portman. The emotionally challenged mother bought a Mercedes she couldn’t afford and with her daughter, moved to Beverly Hills to “marry a rich man”. She enrolled her daughter—who was a sane, level-headed character—in a Beverly Hills high school with rich kids. The movie’s protagonists actually had no furniture in their apartment, only a mattress. The movie was all about Susan Sarandon’s crazy, mixed-up, dysfunctional character and how it repeatedly upset her normal 18-year old daughter. The movie ended, though, with a character growth arc for the mother. The mother actually sold her Mercedes so she could initiate for the benefit of her daughter and send her to Brown University, the school her daughter wanted to attend. The point of this story is that the heart of the daughter softened to her crazy mother with this act of self-sacrifice. We know when people sacrifice. We know when people go out of their way to truly care about us and help us.

Jesus said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Give one’s life for a ransom? That, my friend, is what I call initiating for another’s benefit!