Giving Until the Job Is Done
Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
Abraham wanted his servant, Eliezer, to go find a wife for his son, Isaac. He told Eliezer the criteria the woman would need to fulfill to be worthy of marrying his son. Eliezer should go by a spring of water and see if he could find a woman who would not only give water to him to drink, but would also instinctively give water to his camels without ever being asked to do so.
Eliezer did just as Abraham had instructed him and, by a spring, he saw a woman named Rebecca. Eliezer ran towards her and asked her for a drink. She quickly obliged and ...
"When she finished giving him drink, she said, 'I will draw water even for your camels until they have finished drinking.' ...And it was, when the camels had finished drinking, the man took a golden nose ring, its weight was a beka, and two bracelets on her arms..." (Genesis 24:19-32)
A LIFE LESSON
There is a barely noticeable but very significant distinction in the way Rebecca gave water to Eliezer and how she gave water to his camels. This difference teaches a powerful concept regarding doing acts of kindness.
When Rebecca gave water to Eliezer, it was she who decided when to stop giving him water. When she felt that he had enough water, she then "finished giving him drink." However, when Rebecca gave water to his camels, she only stopped giving them water "when the camels had finished drinking."
When we proactively do an act of kindness for someone, we're usually the ones who choose just how much time to spend doing this good deed. This is because if someone initiates a kind gesture, he or she usually controls how much time to devote to it.
However, if you allow the recipient of the act of kindness tell you when you've done enough, then that's an entirely different experience all together.
For example, let's assume you have a friend or family member that's emotionally very needy and sometimes requires a lot of attention. Listening to this person talk endlessly might be absolutely the right thing to do. But since he's usually never the one to end the conversation, you'll usually engage him until you've "finished giving him drink" and then gently end the encounter. This is how Rebecca was toward Eliezer and it's definitely a beautiful act of kindness.
However, if once in a while you listened to and spent time with this person until he ended the conversation and "had finished drinking," it would be a monumentally greater act equal to what Rebecca did for the camels.
When doing an act of kindness we often feel a subconscious sense of entitlement that tells us that we can end our flow of generosity when we decide to do so. It goes against our nature to give until the recipient says to stop. But sometimes this is exactly what God wants us to shoot for.