It's not where you serve, but how

Don't have enough time for service? You don't have to start your own soup kitchen. Finding small ways to serve makes a big difference.

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  • Like many people, I am inspired by people who sacrifice their time and use their talents to serve others. Doctors and nurses take trips to third world countries to do free surgeries and give medical care. Others travel to faraway places and offer aid to those displaced by war. Closer to home, I know people who spend several hours every week volunteering at schools or in the community.

  • Right now I don’t have time to volunteer in a formal capacity for hours each week. I have young children at home and a husband who is working to secure his career. Rather than feel guilty or be discouraged about my situation, I’m trying to serve in small ways. How you serve and who you serve matters. Consider these ideas as you try to infuse your life with more service.

  • Show love

  • One of the easiest ways to serve others is to be a loving person. A loving person smiles at others, is patient, shows kindness and looks for ways to help others be happy. You can show love to your family and friends in many ways, but you can also show love to strangers. Do this by smiling, saying hello, expressing thanks and looking for ways to help people as you go throughout your day.

  • Be thoughtful

  • You can do the most good by doing specific things that are needful to others. For example, if you have a friend who is moving, offer to bring dinner or help pack. When your neighbor is sick, watch her children for a few hours or take her dog on a walk. If you know an extended family member is struggling, send a care package or card with a meaningful message. Think about those who could use your help and then provide it as you can.

  • Be generous

  • I have heard several stories of people who literally give the coats off their backs when they find someone who needed it more. I try to keep this idea in mind as I live my life. When someone needs a few extra dollars at the grocery store, I am willing to help them out. If I hear of a family that could use clothing, I am happy to go through my children’s closets.

  • Being generous with our time is also important. An hour a week in a classroom could make a big difference to a child who is struggling to read. A few minutes chatting with an older person who might be lonely could brighten his day and his outlook on life.

  • Involve your family

  • If one of the reasons you don’t serve often is because you don’t want to leave your family, take them with you! My sister organized a Christmas Day service project for our whole extended family. We went to clean up after a dinner for seniors in our community. It was fun to work together and think of someone else.

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  • Involving your family is easy. If you’re taking dinner to a new mother, let your children help you cook or make a card for the family. If you’re picking out school supplies for foster kids, take your children to the store with you. Your children will remember these opportunities and become service-minded for life.

  • Find a passion

  • Service is easier if you are passionate about a cause. A local women’s organization in my hometown works to help foster children and families. I am always willing to support their fundraisers and activities because I feel passionate about the need for good foster families and keeping foster children safe. When you find something to be passionate about, you will find many ways to serve, even if they are very small.

  • Donate

  • If you can’t give time to an organization, consider making a donation. Sometimes, budgets are small, but I have found that sacrificing for the welfare of others makes me feel very grateful and rich. I would love to travel abroad and help families learn about nutrition, hygiene and help them get easy access to clean water. Since I can’t do that, I’ve chosen to donate to an organization that can. Charities often need specific items for the people they serve, and collecting and donating those is helpful as well.

  • Someday, I hope to travel and do humanitarian work. Until then, I’ll be serving where I am. Looking for ways to serve and then acting on them is just as important as going on a medical mission or working at a homeless shelter. After all, it’s not where you serve, but how.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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