Turning Down the Heat on Simmering Guilt

SoupVolunteering is a good thing. Studies indicate emotional and physical benefits from regular volunteer work, especially for seniors who might otherwise be less connected. But what if I’m not a senior citizen and can manage to keep plenty busy with a house, a husband, the kids and writing? Is it ever okay to stop volunteering? I don’t mean stop altogether. But maybe stop doing something you’ve been doing for a while, take a break, regroup, or even find something entirely different to do. I feel guilty even asking the question.

It seems easier to regulate volunteering for committees since they often have natural endpoints. And that’s good because if I serve for too long on any one committee–get too close to an organization’s inner-workings–I begin to get annoyed by the individual hang-ups and exasperating personality traits of others. I’m sure the same could be said of me–and in probably shorter order, as I’ve already written a bit about my cranky demeanor. But natural endpoints to committee memberships mean I rarely need to be concerned about the possibility of making bail.

I’m wondering more about volunteer activities without natural endpoints, and question if it’s ever okay to stop. I’m in awe of stalwart volunteers at soup kitchens and in Sunday school classrooms, those who cheerfully serve in the same capacity for decades. What’s wrong with me? Why do I sometimes feel drained rather than fulfilled by these activities?

Plus, hanging with the sick, the poor, the downtrodden and the elderly can be downright depressing. A real buzz-kill in today’s YOLO culture where it’s more appealing to focus only on our own needs. Therein lies the answer I guess. Being told by experts that volunteer work will make us feel more fulfilled, makes it, like everything else, about us. And that misses the point.

I’m reminded that offering to serve is just that, a service. It’s about the “other” and making the lives of others a bit more tolerable, enriched or blessed. And those stalwarts, well they’ve probably experienced hard days or felt drained or wanted to throw their hands up, switch to hermit mode and just binge watch old episodes of Big Bang Theory.

I confess my self-centeredness and hope for a renewed focus on the purpose of volunteering that will refresh and inspire me. But if I (or you) decide to shift gears or take a break from any particular volunteer effort, let’s agree to not stew in the juices of guilt, but instead commit to pressing on toward a more “other” focused mindset, seeking daily to bless others and to hopefully be blessed in the process.

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