When kind, generous, service-minded people do charitable work, they often say that they want to “give back.”
And I think: Why not simply give?
To me, “giving back” means returning something. It means I have something that was loaned or given to me and I’m giving it back. But most of the organizations I support with my money and time have never given me anything except the privilege of helping them, so I’m not giving back. And I think that’s the same for most of the people I know.
Am I doing some language nitpicking here? Maybe a little. But accurate language is important.
To give back is to pay a debt. I’m not in debt to the non-profit agency that helps families in crisis, but I want to help it accomplish its mission. I’m not in debt to a friend who is recovering from surgery, but I want to take them a meal or help in some other way.
I don’t give back. I just give.
Have I been on the receiving end of kindness and generosity from friends and strangers who didn’t owe me a thing? More times than I can count. But it wasn’t a “I’m going to help you and now you owe me” transaction. It was a “I care about you and I want to do this for you” situation. It was a gift—a gift I accepted with gratitude.
In my life, I enjoy an abundance of blessings, but that’s not why I give. I give because I want to make a difference, I give because it makes me feel good, and, most important, I give because God tells me to give—not to give back, but to give. Christian giving is an act of worship.
Of course, there are times when giving back is an accurate description of what we’re doing. For example, you might have received assistance from a person or an agency and, to relieve your sense of obligation, you give them time or money when you have the resources. That’s good, but it’s essentially repaying a debt, not giving.
If we only give back, if we don’t simply give, are we giving much at all?