I heard years ago that when we give to others we should “give until it hurts.” It took me half a lifetime to fully understand those words – give until it hurts. I’ve learned there is a difference between giving and giving until it hurts. A big difference. One makes you happy, the other brings you joy. And in my 50 years on this planet I’ve learned that I’d pick joy over happy any day.

Happy makes us smile…it is about us. Happy is temporary and depends more on our circumstances. Joy is long-lasting and it changes our hearts because it is about others. We can have joy in our hearts in spite of our circumstances.

My wife is a “give until it hurts” giver. I’ve learned a lot about what giving looks like being married to Jill for the last 15 years. Having been divorced, a single mother, losing her brother at a young age, growing up humbly in Greeley, CO, and losing her father a few years ago – all these experiences have shaped my wife’s heart. Jill has taught me the difference between being happy versus being joyful. And it has made me a better man.

When the kids were young, Jill would host the most wonderful birthday parties. A tea party, clown party, hockey party, you name it party. But after the birthday party she would tell the kids to pick one unopened present and give it away to someone in need. When the kids got older, Jill would write on the birthday party invitations, “In lieu of gifts, please bring a wrapped children’s book to donate to those in need.” Another year she asked them to bring canned food for the poor. Another year it was bring children’s clothing. Another year it was sports equipment. My kids have all grown up learning that birthdays are special, but birthdays are even more special because they are also about giving.

We all know that scene on Christmas morning when young kids plow through opening dozens and dozens of presents. They often don’t even acknowledge their presents because they are just ripping the wrapping paper off the next gift. They’ve made it into an Olympic sport of who can open presents faster than the other. My kids experienced this scenario once, then Jill chimed in. Each year, during Christmas, our kids get ONE gift from Santa, a stocking filled with little goodies from Santa’s elves and ONE gift from mom and dad. It has changed our Christmas mornings. It has shifted from a marathon of gift opening to a blessing of intentional giving and grateful receiving.

There has not been a holiday season were Jill has not adopted a family, donated food, filled shoeboxes for underprivileged children, or done something that expresses what the holiday spirit is truly about: thanks and giving, and being thankful to give.

They say our daughter Caroline is a mini Jill. They look alike for sure, but Caroline also has her mother’s heart. Every summer I ask the kids to choose where they want to go on family vacation. Anthony has chosen Hilton Head. Tate chooses any city that has an indoor hockey rink. But last summer, Caroline got to choose our summer vacation.  And she chose building homes for the poor in Mexico. And thanks to Youth with a Mission’s Homes of Hopewe got to do just that and build a home for the poor. And you know what? It turned out to be our best family vacation ever! Can you guess where we are going next year for part of our summer vacation? We’ve learned as a family that Hilton Head makes us happy, but building homes for the poor brings us unbelievable joy. 

Most people wake up every morning saying, “what do I need to do today?” We act like human doers, instead of human beings. Jill wakes up every morning saying, “who do I need to serve today?” Jill has taught me that doing makes us happy, but serving creates joy in our hearts. There is a difference. A big difference. 

So, this holiday season of Thanksgiving, let’s find ways to show our thanks by serving others. This Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, etc.  let’s adopt a family and give them the gifts we were going to buy for our families. Let’s sponsor a kid from Ethiopia with Compassion International.  Let’s donate food to our local food bank or homeless shelter. Or, let’s change the life of one inner-city kid by sponsoring them to attend our 21st Annual National Leadership Academy this coming June 25-28, 2020, in Denver, CO. 

There a million of ways we can give to others, but there is only one way to truly give…and that is to give until it hurts.

I wish you and your family a season of giving to others. A season of having an attitude of gratitude. And a season of changing our holiday invitations to say: “In lieu of serving ourselves and being happy, I chose serving others and pursue joy in my heart.” There is a difference. A BIG DIFFERENCE.

P.S. Consider supporting the Tommy Spaulding Leadership Institute, a 501c(3) non-profit, by ordering your holiday and giving items on Minted.com.