An Editorial by Sheila Ferguson
“The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.” –Proverbs 11:25
I am a giver and a veteran social services worker at a charitable, religious organization. I live each day guided by the scripture Matthew 22:39, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” In recent years, the phrase “paying it forward” has become a bit cliché as many refer back to the 2000 film of the same name. Yet few really know that it is a tenet as old as Biblical scripture. A few Sundays ago, I was given a valuable gift of enlightenment that will stay with me forever. It was a message about how we can all be cheerful receivers when invited to support those dedicated to passing on the Love of Christ by “paying it forward.”
As a front-line worker, I know that paying it forward is grounded in acts of kindness. Thus, it can be the simple act of giving dignity and respect, or just being there to support someone in need. It can also mean dropping off a thank you note, sharing a slice of just baked pie, mowing a sick neighbor’s grass, or a listening ear for someone who has just experienced a loss. Over the years, I have loved giving to others. It is second nature to me. Yet I sometimes feel reluctant about letting others shower me with gifts of love and support.
A few Sundays ago, my perceptions changed about my willingness to receive by accepting gifts, or “being watered” as Jesus would say. My story begins while shopping at a national drugstore chain on a Sunday afternoon. Initially, I went through the check-out to purchase toiletries, soup, soda, and coffee. After shopping, I glimpsed our local Plain Dealer, a newspaper soon destined to become a “Sunday Only Circulation.” While swiping it off the rack, I could not wait to get home, kick off my shoes, make a cup of tea, and read the paper in a quiet moment! Wow, I thought, what a treat to hold a hard copy newspaper in my hands.
Once back in line, clutching my groceries in one hand and the paper in the other, I rifled through my purse for some change. Just then, the elderly gentleman standing ahead of me in line asked, “Miss, can I buy that newspaper for you? Perplexed, I said “Oh, Sir, there is no need for you to do that. Thanks again!”
“Miss, please, I do not think you understand. Oh, hi, my name is James, what’s yours?”
“I am Sheila, pleased to meet you,” and we shook hands.
In a second, his tone shifted from questioning to pleading. “Miss, I beg of you; can I buy you this paper? Sheila, I am over eighty years old, and it is time for me to prepare for the Lord!” Struck by the seriousness of James’s statement, I listened intently. “You would not know this, but I have been a sinner most of my life. Till recently, I spent every day of my life trying to beat somebody out of something. I did not care if it was their house, their car, or pocket change. Finally, God said enough and put a hurting on me. I was so pitiful that I could not resist the urge to hurt others. I had an addiction to taking unfair advantage. Sadly, I did not know how to be kind. For years, a dark cloud hung over my head. I was bad news, and whenever people saw me coming, they’d run in the other direction. My injurious behavior also made me a guest of the state more than once. However, this last stay gave me time to reflect.”
“Sheila,” he said, “Now every day of my life is spent doing something nice for somebody wherever I can. Over the last five years, I have started paying it forward daily! Today, I concentrate only on committing acts of kindness toward others. Thank you for allowing me to buy you the Sunday paper, which I hope you will enjoy. By accepting my payback and a pay-it-forward, you and so many kind others are helping me…Thank you!”
With tears in my eyes, I thanked James for his soul-stirring testimony and the gift of the newspaper. Finally, this unforgettable and life-changing interaction has opened my heart to being supported by others.