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Reform Magazine | February 25, 2017

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Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, day one

Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, day one

Commitment-Phobe is taking part in the Bible Society’s advent challenge and keeping a journal of how she gets on.

commitment-phobe-cropToday, Tuesday 1 December, was the first day of the Bible Society’s online Advent challenge which ends on the 24 December (just in time for Christmas!). The idea behind it is to challenge people to think about giving more than receiving. To do the challenge you have to register your name and email address and each day you will receive three challenges from which to choose one.

I registered to join the Advent challenge earlier in the month because my friend was doing it and I have always wanted to do more at Christmas. By more, I mean less commercial shopping and more caring. I also wanted to know what it is to do something for a stranger, without any expectation of reciprocation or reward.

I checked my email this morning and behold there was a message from the Bible Society giving me three choices of challenge to choose from. I could either:

  • 1) give some flowers to a resident of a nursing home
  • 2) make a card or gift for someone I love
  • 3) buy a gift for a child in Palestine this Christmas by donating £10 to a charity.

With a groggy morning head and a busy day about to start – including a nursery drop-off, parents meeting, decorating my local church for Christmas and then a pick-up from nursery, with lunch and the putting away of groceries somewhere in that schedule too – the most obvious choice to me seemed that of paying the charity money. Buying flowers would put me out and make me late to something else. I didn’t have time to make something, and I was going to be giving gifts or cards to loved ones anyway this month. But as the coffee kicked in I found myself not wanting to do another anonymous transfer of money with no human interaction or cost to me, other than monetary. So I looked up the address of the nearest nursing home and made a plan to get a bouquet from my local supermarket and make my way there. As I didn’t know a resident, this challenge was going to put me out, might be embarrassing and might be awkward – which seemed like good reasons to do it!

I chose a bouquet, something pretty but inexpensive, and made my way to the nursing home. I had been advised by my friend to use some sort of patter to explain to people why I was doing what I was doing. Mine was a sort of rambled: “Hi, you don’t know me, but today is the first day of advent when we look forward to the birth of Christ, and I want to pass a blessing on to someone, so I thought I would give someone this (insert whatever the challenge is).” To get into the care home, I needed to repeat this patter around four times and it didn’t get any clearer with repetition. Although I had chosen this challenge for the element of human contact, I had not realised how exposing it would feel, or how involved I would need to be.

I had expected to do a drop-the-flowers-and-run, something anonymous and kind. I wanted the flowers to either go in a communal area for all, or to be given to one of the residents who received the least amount of visits, to help cheer them up. What I did not expect was to be ushered into the common area where all the residents were watching a TV show, or to be introduced to everyone. My bouquet went to the resident of the day – each day a different resident gets this honorary title. It all happened quite fast, so I am not sure what else the title involves. Today “resident of the day” was Cynthia, a frail but beautiful Afro-Caribbean woman who was sat in a wheelchair and looked at me to either assess me, understand what was going on, or in disapproval – her expression made this unclear.

As the bouquet was placed in her hands, and the reason was explained to her by me and her careworker, she was told to smile. A photo was taken of the two of us together. I hoped I had not caused her some distress. “Cynthia, is this OK with you?” Finally, a little confused but overwhelmed, she broke into a huge smile when her careworker said the flowers could go in her room later, and she kissed her hand with tears. It was very moving. Her careworker asked me to stay for a cup of tea, and that is when I realised that staying and talking was the greater gift to give. I didn’t have the time – I was going to be late to pick up my daughter – but I promised to return tomorrow afternoon.

I left feeling moved to tears, and feeling unsure why. Maybe it was thoughts of my own grandparents, now passed away; maybe it was realising how little I interact with older people; or maybe it was the feeling there is always something more to be done.

I am looking forward to tomorrow’s challenge, as well as the beginning of a relationship with the residents of the local nursing home. Only one day in and perhaps my life has completely changed. Giving in the name of God’s love seems to open unexpected doors and avenues. You want to lend a hand – but God wants you to lend your whole arm.

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Read Commitment-phobe’s regular column for Reform here.

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