First I would like to say thank you for what you do.
My question is how much is too much when a Christian does good things for others? My mom does so much for people she knows and I am happy about that. But sometimes I feel like she overdoes it.
I know the Bible say we should help, share and be there for others. How much is too much?
Thank you for your thank you. We shortened your submission because it was actually three separate questions and we didn’t have room to answer all three. We also can’t answer your question specifically for Christians, since that isn’t our sphere of knowledge. What we can do however, is share guidelines from ancient Jewish wisdom.
You don’t say why you think your mother overdoes her acts of kindness nor do you reveal your age. Are you a teenager at home who misses your mother because she is out of the house caring for others instead of sharing time with you? (Of course, adults can desire more time with their mothers as well.) Are you worried about an aging mother damaging her health because she takes care of others while ignoring her own physical needs? Are you concerned that your mother is depleting her bank account and will not be able to cover her rent or insurance payments or are you seeing your inheritance being given away and worried about that? Each of these is a different circumstance. Your concerns may be none of the above. Without knowing, we’ll do our best to respond with general principles.
Sometimes it is easier to be kind to strangers than to our own families. Most of us felt this as kids when we always thought our friends’ parents were way cooler than ours. Loving humanity is easier than having patience with real human beings, especially ones to whom we are related and whose needs interfere with our own desires. Some women may involve themselves in charity work, convincing themselves that they are doing the right thing even though they are neglecting their own families in the process. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us that we humans find it far easier to do even hard things as a volunteer than to do even easy things that are our obligation.
In reality, what we wish to give to others is only available after we have first fulfilled our own obligations. Just as the IRS will not excuse you from paying your taxes if you explain that you’ve given that money away to good causes, we are obliged to take care of our own families first. Obviously, the tricky part is knowing where the line is. This isn’t an excuse for never volunteering or helping others. Neither does it mean continual servitude to a demanding family member.
If you feel neglected because of your mother’s benevolence to others, a conversation is in order. Your mother might be surprised to hear how much you need her and want to be with her.
A conversation would also be a good idea in all the other circumstances. If you are concerned for your mother’s health, specifics matter a great deal. We would caution that people who are givers and needed by others tend to thrive more than those who focus on themselves. If your mother slows down, she might very well harm her health more than help it.
Ancient Jewish wisdom does caution against giving so much financially that you cannot take care of yourself. As much as giving charity and tithing is promoted, there is also a warning against giving away too much, in most cases more than 20% of one’s income. Talking to a financial planner would be a very good idea in this case.
However, your mother’s money does belong to her. It can be hard to watch assets devalue, but parents do not have an obligation to leave wealth to children. Most parents do want to help their children, of course, and if you wish that your mother would think of you and your needs, then perhaps letting her know what you need now is a better idea than counting on an inheritance.
Without knowing the specifics of your personal situation, we can’t offer an authoritative response. However, in general, we humans have a hard time finding exactly the golden mean between two valid ideas: that we should be givers but that there is a concept of giving too much and/or unwisely. Life is challenging. One tip is to find your correct road by doing what we do in driving. We don’t stare at the patch of road directly in front of our car. Our eyes scan the more distant destination while they carefully absorb data from the left and the right. When you know where the lane marker is on either side, your brain takes you down the safe middle. Similarly, writing down your goal along with the two extremes on either side, then gauging your golden mean by heading down the middle line isn’t a bad way to go.
Wishing you honest and loving conversations with happy outcomes,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin