Admittedly, Facebook offers a few benefits. One was highlighted to me the other day. I am still grasping the craziness of it all.
I was watching television with my husband when I received a bing on my phone indicating a Facebook message had come in. I don’t receive very many, so I opened it immediately. It read:
Hi Carole, I’m looking for my big sister from Lafayette College when I was a young girl. I’m not sure but I think you may be her. I am volunteering and in the board of directors for big brothers and big sisters and it made me think of you. I just wanted to say hello and thank you for your time when I was younger. I hope you are living a wonderful and fulfilled life. You made an impact on my life and I am going well. I hope you are the right Carole Orzio.
What!! Yes, I was indeed the right Carole Orzio. While at college I had signed up to be a big sister in the national organization of Big Brother Big Sisters of America. I was assigned an outgoing, bright and fun young girl (about 11). We spent a significant amount of time together, including activities like eating out, and once, we even went to an amusement park. Other times she came to my dorm room and we would just chat alone or with my friends. During one summer break she took a bus to New York City, I picked her up, and took her to my family’s home in the suburbs. She was a delight and a blessing to me. Sadly, we lost touch after I graduated and went to law school. I often wondered what had become of her. I could not believe she had found me after 40 years!
Thursday we chatted on the phone and caught up on life. We had a lot of catching up to do! This encounter was amazing. She not only finished high school, then college, but went on to get her MBA. While I am sure that I was only one of many individuals that motivated her, I was grateful that I had made some difference. I knew then, I had done a “good” thing. I also realized the incredible gift she gave me. How often have we done things, never learning whether they impacted anyone? And yes, I am grateful to Facebook, which enabled her to find me.
The entire interaction has made me reflect on the reasons I was motivated to be a big sister. I was a college student at an academically challenging school. I was also busy doing the social things college students often do—probably busy doing too many of those things! I remember also volunteering at a senior center in town. Why had I taken the time to do those good things? What motivated me? I was not a follower of Christ at the time. Had God played any role in my decisions to help others? If I had been asked that question forty years ago, what would I have answered?
I did have a vague belief in God. At that time, I had some sense that doing “good” things pleased Him, and I believed that perhaps my good works could earn me points that would help me gain status with Him. And admittedly, a part of me thought my good works somehow canceled out any of the not so good things I was also doing. But had I been asked, I think I would have answered that I felt a moral obligation to help others, and that we are not on this earth to just take care of ourselves. Good reasons. Admirable reasons. But all of my good reasons, all my good deeds, did not make me good. I still did those not so good things—a lot of them. I continued to feel guilt over those things, and none of my good deeds took the shame away. I continued to fall short, and I continued to feel an isolation from God.
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 2:23
But many years later I learned of God’s unconditional forgiveness. I came to believe in faith that Christ died for me in order to take my sins away. Only then did I experience peace—the peace that surpasses all understanding. All my good works had not been able to free me from the continued guilt I felt. My good deeds did not make me good. God’s grace did. Only by God’s grace could I be declared righteous.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
So what is the difference between the good works I do now and the good works I did then? And does my motivation really matter, then or now? Aren’t good works all good works? To the recipient of the good works, probably, the answer is yes. Most times the recipient is just glad to receive a gift! I have come to believe, however, that while the motivation may not matter to the recipient, it does indeed matter. Good reasons are not necessarily the right reasons.
Today I know that it is my faith in Christ that motivates me. I could never do enough good things to deserve His love. But He loved me anyway, enough to die for me and take my not so good things (my sins) away. And because of His love for me, I want to love Him back, and I want to love others as He loved me. I want to do His will His way. I know now that any good works I do have been set before me by God. It is by His grace, and His grace alone, that I can do anything. That takes the pressure off of me. That makes it all about Him!
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
I am grateful that I had some impact on a young girl forty years ago, and I am grateful that she found me and told me. It has served as a reminder to me that our actions have consequences. But I am also grateful that my good works are not complete in and of themselves, and God will continue to use me for His good and perfect purposes. I may never again find out how my good works impact others, but it shouldn’t matter. And when we walk in His ways and in His will, it is “pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:21b.