Updated: Oct 5
When I thought about the focus of this article, my first instinct was to discuss the hard-working men and women who have devoted their careers to helping others to get well physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have worked in the field of promoting mental health for nearly seventeen years and have had the pleasure of working with some extremely caring individuals. Our schedules can be grueling at times and the job itself can be thankless, but we’ve chosen a life of service out of the abundance we’ve been blessed with. I am always inspired when I see my coworkers, several of whom are now close friends, extend generosity beyond the requirements of the job. But what I’m inspired to share with you today occurred several years ago when I worked under the Department of Social Services’ CalWorks program.
CalWorks, the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program, is a short-term public assistance program that helps families who are in need of housing, food, utilities, clothing or medical care. I encountered a group of single, homeless women who came to me for mental health services. The women varied in age and need. Many were dealing with an array of mental health conditions, on top of trying to find work and shelter, and raising their children. They all had one thing in common: their basic needs were not being met. They did not have homes, they did not have the security of an assured meal, they did not have the resources or tools to manage their overwhelming stress levels. My heart ached for these women who had so little.
They began to attend therapy sessions with me while they worked toward obtaining employment and housing. Each individual situation was tragic; to think that these were the fortunate souls who had actually made it this far was heartbreaking. There were days when I went home exhausted by their stories, but I saw a psychological resiliency and gritty determination in women who had been beaten down metaphorically, and often physically. As they continued to work tirelessly to better themselves and change their circumstances, I began to notice their interactions with one another.
When Lisa, a 24-year-old single mom ran out of food and did not know how she was going to feed her crying two and half year-old daughter, a childless woman from the program shared the little food she had, even though it meant that she would not eat enough that night. Jessica found housing and needed help moving into her new apartment, and other women in the program came to her aid to ensure that she could move in and get settled. Michelle finally got a job interview but could not afford childcare, so another woman offered to babysit so that Michelle could succeed in taking the next step for her family.
Day after day I witnessed these women generously offering time and already scarce resources to help each other. I was inspired to see women who were barely getting by offer whatever resources they could muster to their fellow sisters in need. Some were aware of Christ’s presence in their lives and some were not. But it was evident that they all truly embodied Christ for one another, meeting each other’s needs so selflessly. They had faith that if roles were reversed, they would be similarly taken care of. Their spirit of charity was awesome to witness.
What I have learned from these women is that generosity is personal. Certainly, I have had the opportunity to be generous, to give more than the required minimum without being asked. While I like to think of myself as benevolent and generous, I know that I have never given to the point of hunger. The meaning and value of the gifts we give each other depends on the personal cost. But the women from CalWorks gave to save each other. By giving of themselves to one another, they became blessed with a closeness in community that was one of the most Christ-like I have ever witnessed. They exemplified the beauty of what can be accomplished when we give selflessly, regardless of personal cost.