Too Busy to Volunteer

Volunteering is a way of life for many people. We derive so much pleasure from sharing our time, energy and resources withFor many of us, volunteering comes only in our spare time those in need. The sight of a grateful smile gladdens the heart and inspires the soul. It motivates us to volunteer even more.

But for many of us, volunteering comes only in our spare time. By “spare time,” I mean after we have filled our quota of downtime or “me time.” Only after we have tended to our needs and provided for our leisure do we give of ourselves to others.

This results in a drop off in volunteer hours when our lives grow hectic. When something new or unexpected is added to our plate, the first thing we slash is our volunteering. This makes sense. There are only so many hours in the day; when our day fills up, there isn’t enough time left for others.

Making Time to Volunteer

But there is another approach. The old saying goes, “If you want something to get done, ask a busy person to do it.” Busy people have time for additional projects because they enjoy being busy. If you add another item to their agenda, it often makes them happier. They don’t feel overburdened—they feel more alive when they are challenged, when they have lots on their plate.

Busy people don’t know the term “too much.” If they run out of time, they seek creative ways to stretch their time. They might delegate or recruit, but they don’t back away from a task. They get it done.

The rationalists clear space in their schedule for new tasks. The busy people squeeze more out of their schedule to make space for new tasks. Which is healthier? On the surface, the rationalists are healthier; they don’t overextend themselves. They cut out what they consider secondary or superfluous tasks to make space for their needs. The problem is the slippery slope; once on the road toward compromise, it’s hard to stop. Today they cut back on volunteering for others, tomorrow they cut back on helping their mother, and before long, there is no room in their lives for anyone. The result is lethargy, boredom, loneliness and often sadness, if not depression.

This is not to say that we should stretch beyond our limits. Burnout won’t help anyone. But our limits are usually looser than we think. People who push against their limits to get more tasks done are filled with energy, drive and ambition. Their days are full, and they feel good about themselves as they find creative ways to accomplish their goals.

Time is elastic. It stretches to accommodate many tasks and shrinks to accommodate fewer. If we fill our schedule with many tasks, our days are full. If we pare down the tasks that we don’t feel we can accommodate, our days will still be full, only with fewer tasks. We plod along sedately as we fill our few laborious tasks, and have little to show for the time we invest.

The G‑d Factor

A separate dimension enters the equation when we discuss taking on tasks that G‑d wants us to do. When finances grow tight, the first expense we cut is often charity. When we make a commitment to keepWhy don't we have enough money? kosher and we move away from the kosher grocery store, the first commitment we let go of is kosher. If we volunteer for a G‑dly cause, it is the first thing we jettison when we run out of time. And so it goes, if we need more space in our wallet or day we let go of what G‑d wants first.

Now think about it. Why don’t we have enough money? Is it because we aren’t making enough money? What does it mean when we say, “I’m making a living”? We don’t make our living, G‑d makes our living. G‑d is in charge of our finances. If we need more money to give our children a Jewish education, it behooves us to put them in a Jewish school and say, “Dear G‑d, I am going to need you to give me more money.” If we demonstrate commitment to G‑d, we give Him reason to take care of our needs.

The same is true of time. The only reason we run out of time is because our day is filled with distraction. If we caught every green light, if we reached people over the phone on our first attempt, if our errands and projects went off without a hitch, we would find ourselves with much more time. And with G‑d in charge of these vicissitudes, it is worth our while to prioritize G‑d. If we put G‑d at the top of our list, we can legitimately turn to Him and say, “Dear G‑d, I’m going to need you make more time in my day.”

The Tribe of Levi

This is precisely what happened to the tribe of Levi. Have you ever wondered why Moses was free to wander in and out of Pharaoh’s palace with impunity? Wasn’t he a Jewish slave?

The answer, as you may know, is that Moses was a member of the tribe of Levi. Initially, when Pharaoh merely “invited” the Jews to perform their civic duty and help build the cities of Egypt, the tribe of Levi refused to participate. Later, Pharaoh forced those willing volunteers to become his slaves. Thus, the tribe of Levi was exempt from slavery in Egypt.

But how did they get away with it?

There was another difference between the Levites and the rest of the nation. The Jews that came to Egypt were all practicing and observant. With time, Jews began to drop their religious practices. First, they cut out the little things, then the larger things, until, before long, they became as pagan as the Egyptians.

The Levites held fast to all the traditions handed down by Abraham. They never compromised on any of it. When life got tough and Pharaoh became more and more demanding, the Levites never pulled back from their commitments to G‑d. They never even pulled back from the optional customs and non-obligatory rituals. They remained steadfast.

According to at least one commentator, this isWhen life becomes overwhelming, we shouldn't pull back from G‑d's agenda precisely why they were spared from slavery. They showed G‑d that they needed their time to worship Him, so G‑d granted them time. The other Jews showed G‑d that they didn’t need more time, they were content to cut back on their commitments to G‑d, so G‑d did not provide them with more time.

The upshot is that when life becomes overwhelming and we need more time in our day, we shouldn’t pull back from G‑d’s agenda. We can make alternate arrangements for anyone else, but G‑d should receive our time and attention. If we give our money and time to G‑d, He will give money and time back to us.1