Recently, we gave everyone in our church a five-dollar bill. It was not for brunch, or a movie or a Powerball ticket (although the Powerball option was tempting). The money was for one purpose: to lift someone up. In short, everyone had to “pay it forward.” And so those $5 bills went out into the world and lifted up people from every walk of life:
• One member took the $5 to 7-11, bought five chicken wings and gave them to a man who was curled up on the sidewalk outside with a sign that said, “I’m hungry.”
• Another went to Dollar Tree and used the money to buy mittens for a family in need.
• Someone gave the $5 to a street vendor outside their apartment to help offset the cost of the fruit that had been stolen from his cart.
• One woman used her $5 to help a struggling artist performing at the train station.
• Yet another used hers to buy an umbrella for a homeless person on a rainy day.
• One member used it to fund supplies for a woman in Afghanistan so that she might learn tailoring skills and eventually start a business.
• And one person gave it to a waitress at lunch and said, “take $5 off your next bill, then tell the customer why, and invite them to pay it forward in their own life.”
This experience offered a powerful lesson on how to do a lot with a little. We don’t need tons of money or a huge foundation or an army of people to change the world. We can help others with tiny, personal gestures that show we care. Something as simple as helping someone feel heard or acknowledged can heal and enable that person to go out into the world changed, ready to continue the chain of kindness.
It’s like the dandelions many of us used to play with when we were little. You’d pick one up, make a wish, then blow the round fluffy ball of seeds at the top and watch as the wind transported them to reseed, replant, grow, and start again. That’s exactly what we’re talking about: the power of warmth, love, and compassion to reach out, to transform, to bring life.
But there’s another lesson here: to lift someone up, you have to be able to find someone to lift up. You have to get outside your own daily concerns to recognize the needs that surround us every day. Think of the examples above: you can’t give money to help the fruit vendor if you aren’t aware that he has experienced loss; you can’t give food or an umbrella to a homeless person if you don’t notice them. To be able to give, you have to see the need first.
We can change the world. That’s not just some glib hallmark statement. It’s truth. We can, and together, we will. One kind gesture at a time, we can leave this earth better than we found it.
Try it this week! Take a five-dollar bill and see what you can do to “lift someone up.” Hopefully, they will be inspired to do the same. As the author, Margaret Mead wrote, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever has.”
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is a nationally known speaker, preacher and author specializing in the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email email@example.com or her website www.SusanSparks.com.