Gifts of Service They Won’t Forget

In the Mindful Self-Compassion program, we learn that love reveals anything unlike itself. During the holidays, this can be especially apparent for those whose dominant experience of the season includes anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, or a heightened sense of “not enough.”

One way to work with these difficult feelings is to offer acts of embodied service to those on our gift list. As we turn our attention toward others’ needs, space can naturally emerge between us and our own difficulties. We aren’t quite as swept up in them. And from this place, we create opportunities for connection and joy, within ourselves and with others. We are reminded of our part in the interconnected web of life.

Pope Francis invites us to “live the revolution of tenderness” through compassion and service. Roshi Joan Halifax offers “the way out of the storm and mud of suffering, the way back to freedom on the high edge of strength and courage, is through the power of compassion.” What would that look like in your life during the holiday season?

Give this short exercise a try:

  • Come to stillness. Greet yourself with a warm “hello” and settle in.
  • Call to mind a person for whom you’d like to provide a gift of service. Imagine their face as clearly as you can. Enjoy their company for a moment. Noticing, perhaps, a warmth of attention that arises.
  • From that place of connected presence, silently ask:

How can I make your life a little more ease-ful right now?

What do you need help with that I have the capacity to offer?

What have I heard you ask for, whether in words or action?

  • Notice any answers that arise. Give them time and patience to show themselves. Let your ideas be silly. Boring. Outrageous. Practical. Jot them down as you go. Gather them like jewels. All have value because they have arisen from loving, connected presence.
  • If a particularly enticing idea arises, do a reality check: Is this gift of your time/attention something that might create connection, ease, joy, delight? Does it arise from your really seeing this person?
  • Do this until just the right gift of service reveals itself. And if it doesn’t, let go of the exercise for now, knowing that ideas can be shy and often need to simmer in the background of your daily life to come to full fruition. Keep playing with it. Trust yourself and your good heart to land on just the right gift.


Ideas for gifts of service or loving attention:

  • Cook a meal for someone who is over-busy with caring for others and deliver it to their home.
  • Organization: Clean a closet. Haul away recycling. Take old clothes to the thrift store.
  • Administration: Does someone you love need help filing their taxes? Organizing hospital bills? Researching a business venture? Offer a few hours of support.
  • Teach a skill: knitting, crocheting, bookbinding, basic carpentry.
  • Offer an hour of your time to fix someone’s computer.
  • Invite someone over for a meal who may not have frequent outings.
  • Have a book-reading date with a beloved, taking turns reading to one another and enjoying a selection of delicious tea or snacks.
  • For a young child you live with, how about a hot chocolate and story night?
  • Organize and host a game night.
  • For seniors or those with physical disabilities, offer a couple of hours of your time to change lightbulbs, clean out neglected gutters, put fresh batteries in fire detectors, or make other small home repairs.
  • If you know someone who would appreciate company as they pursue a stalled goal, (train for an athletic event, finish writing a book, lose weight, etc.), organize a system of shared support and positive accountability.
  • For busy parents who need a night on their own, offer an evening of babysitting.
  • Gift an IOU for pet- or house-sitting for pet-owners on your list who like to travel.
  • For someone you live with, offer to do one of their least-favorite chores for a week (for instance, laundry or emptying the trash).
  • Simply offer time. Build something together. Compose music together. Perhaps bring over adult coloring books and markers and color together! For children, take them on a museum outing, to the beach, to a sports event, or ice skating.

Whatever you choose, know that your gifts of service and loving attention are adding more joy and connection to a crazy-busy, often disconnected world, and can create a natural arising of goodwill, both in our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with others. 

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