What’s fun about the Thanksgiving season is all the traditions that infuse its celebration. Traditions ranging from eating turkey, going to the grandparents, making pumpkin pie, watching Charlie Brown, and the breaking of the wishbone!
As a huge Charlie Brown fan, it is a classic, traditional requirement to watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day. One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Woodstock and Snoopy snap the wishbone sending Woodstock flying through the air with the bigger piece and a huge, wide-eyed smile.
Beyond being a fun scene in a classic film, the breaking of the wishbone serves as a deeper metaphor of our need and desire for unconditioned cooperative effort. Think for a moment, how would it work to say, “Sure, I’ll help you hold onto the wishbone if you can guarantee me that I’m going to get the bigger half.”
We might think this is an extreme, even ridiculous, statement, and it is. Yet, how often do we say something similar in our daily lives when we approach encouraging others to serve or when we consider serving others? Do any of the below statements ring true that you’ve said to others or yourself?
- “By doing this community service you will look good on college scholarship applications.”
- “Serving in that position will add a lot to your resume.”
- “Sure, I’ll help with this project, on ________(you fill the blank)_______ condition.”
- “What will I get out of doing this?”
This is a hard topic for me because in high school I definitely had felt driven by the top two. I’m cautious now because as an educator in the midst of scholarship season I still catch myself saying these phrases to others…but it is not the right mindset and I’m retooling my phrasing. It took me four Thanksgivings ago to figure this out.
On Thanksgiving Day, Annelle’s family has helped their church with the massive community Thanksgiving Day meal, they easily serve hundreds of meals. Since we started dating I’ve helped on the delivery team, helping deliver meals with her Dad, James, and Grandpa Bruce. Four years ago James and Bruce were unable to help and I got partnered with Ed.
Ed’s a quiet, older man and I had never spoken with him prior to this. As we started delivering the meals, each place we went the people who answered the door knew Ed. Smiles cracked across their faces as if not used often. After about the eighth stop, I asked Ed, “How do all these people know you?”
His answer was simple, “During the week many of them are on my Meals for Wheels route.” I was curious now. What motivated Ed to do this? Was it because he had time after retirement and was bored? He wanted to feel like he was making an impact? Maybe he had somehow been recruited? So I asked Ed why he volunteered on the Meals on Wheels route…expecting one of the answers above.
Ed’s response, “I’m not sure, I guess it’s the right thing to do.” I was struck. He went on, “Many of them never get out of their houses. Sometimes I’m the only one they ever see all week. They tell me that.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” is a phrase that struck deep. Usually, up to that point, that phrase would reside beneath the layer of self-serving reasons I’d present to myself for doing something. Though those self-serving reasons seemed okay…even right in my eyes they still held me above and kept my self-centeredness concretely held.
Doing the right thing for the sake that it is the right thing to do; no matter how difficult, no matter how challenging, no matter the time commitment. Is possibly the truest demonstration of maturity I can think of. It’s a shift in mindset that puts the cause of others above our own self-serving mindset. It is the mindset shift I needed as a husband and as an aspiring father.
Don’t get me wrong we need to take care of ourselves, that’s the right thing to do. Don’t get me wrong we need to care for our families, that’s the right thing to do. Definitely, don’t get me wrong we must serve others who can offer nothing in return, that’s the right thing to do.
We have something to offer this world. We can think of it as our very own wishbone. Two choices are what we have with our wishbone:
We can hold it out feebly, thinking how we can manipulate the wishbone by our grip to ensure we get the bigger reward, the bigger piece.
Or we can extend it out with passionate, enthusiasm knowing full well that we may not get the larger chunk, the bigger reward. And yet, know that is just the right thing to do.