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What are you looking to get from giving"? a friend asked. Anger boiled over as I thought, Are you questioning my pure motives? With disgust in my voice and agitation oozing through my nonverbal posture, I said, "I'm not looking to get anything, only to give because Christ has given to me."

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However, the question lingered in my mind and heart. Eventually, it challenged me to examine my motives before the Lord in prayer. I committed to spending an hour in prayer to ask God to search me and know me (Ps 139:23-24). Lying prostrate before God, tissues in one hand and a pen in the other, I began to journal.


First, I asked myself and God, What were my pure motives?. These came from years of professional indoctrination as a nurse, combined with my interpretation of biblical knowledge. Scripture teaches, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18), and "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Mt 7:12). So, I debated, "It's biblical to serve others, right?" Other pure reasons I wrote included, "I've been called by God to care," "Someone needed me; I was just trying to help," and "It will only take a minute."


But then, rather abruptly, my pure motives ended.


Everything inside me fought to continue my one-hour prayer commitment. I realized this question was crucial to face on my journey toward deeper spiritual transformation. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32). His promise gave me hope and encouragement to continue the excruciating process. Before I could just say no to others, I had to understand what kept making me say yes. But I wasn't sure I wanted (or needed) to know the truth. I needed courage, strength and determination to plunge the depths of my remaining motives. I asked God for help.



With at least fifty minutes remaining in my prayer time, tears began streaming down my face. They were tears of pain along with relief. I finally was giving myself permission to be me, not a professional caring machine. I began to discover the truth about myself.


With my guard down, I asked, What are you looking to get by giving? The answers that came were shocking and suffocating. I cared for others because I wanted to feel loved. I wanted to be important [horizontal ellipsis] needed [horizontal ellipsis] cared for [horizontal ellipsis] significant. Saying yes served to camouflage the fact that I couldn't just be with myself. By giving I was able to do something constructive. I began to see hidden truths beneath my caring behaviors. Caring for others was about me. Furthermore, if Scripture exhorted me to "Love my neighbor as myself," then I felt sorry for the person I was trying to love because I discovered, for the first time, that I hated myself.


Through honestly seeing myself, I began to understand that before I could just be, I had to face core problems of self-hatred, anger, low self-esteem and a judgmental and critical spirit. The combination of being bound to others' problems, while consequently hating myself, left me in a constant state of burnout. Before I could learn to care aright for myself or others, I needed to admit and confess these problems as sinful.


The curative process began privately between the Lord God and me. For healing to continue, I enlisted a few trusted friends. They helped me evaluate if I was giving graciously or running from myself. Over time, I developed a plan for screening requests within my professional career and personal life. I call my plan "The Three P's." Here's an example of how it works.


@ a glance


[white square] Asking and allowing Godto reveal attitudes and motives underlying our caring can set us free to care more for self and others, and avoid burnout



My friend Ann put the telephone receiver down and wondered what to do next. Her friend Terri, desperately ill and in a nursing home, feared she was dying and had asked Ann to come quickly. But Ann was in severe pain herself, couldn't drive and couldn't take public transportation. She thought of me, her former Bible study leader, and called for a ride.


The words "come quickly" can cause an immediate wall to go up inside a nurse's heart. At first I was angry at being expected to drop my plans. I asked for 15 minutes to think it over and promised to call back. Before I blurted out my first response to a request for my help or time, I needed to consider three things.


1. Prepare: My time with God is a great foundation for responding with a sincere heart when there is a need. I also need to allow time in my schedule for serving others. Although I didn't have time to specifically prepare for this request, I'd been primed by learning to set some guidelines in my life and acknowledge divine interruptions.


2. Pause: I take a few minutes to think over a request before I give my answer, checking my attitude and inner motivation. I ask God to show me his plan and how to respond. I consider my purpose: Does this request fit with the life I know God has called me to? I pause to listen from the heart for a response.


3. Proceed: If I feel I am to meet the need, I assist with a willing servant's heart. When I can't help, I give an honest, gracious answer. I purpose not to feel guilty or beat myself up.



That night I felt I needed to change my plans and give Ann a ride. Though selfishness almost kept me away, I was privileged to be present with these two long-time friends. The powerful evening, two weeks before Terri's death, serves as a reminder that doing God's will is a privilege. I was able to give and receive a blessing when Ann asked me to come quickly.



I challenge you to examine the question, "What am I looking to get by giving?" Thankfully, I uncovered the deep problems that had caused me to always say yes. I searched the Scriptures and learned that Jesus always looked to his heavenly Father for direction about what God wanted him to do. He often did not do what others thought he should (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12;Jn 4:34). At the end of his life, he said he completely finished the work God had given him to do-no more and no less (Jn 17:4).


The truth has set me free, to love and freely care for myself and for others. Now, I prepare my life for interruptions, and when a request comes, I pause to pray. After evaluating my motives and listening for God, I respond with joy and confidence.