Self-improvement and goodness is the reward

Self-improvement and goodness is the reward

We live in a world where awards seem to be freely given and freely received. In fact, sometimes the award becomes such a strong incentive for good work and behaviour that it overshadows the more subtle rewards that might be enjoyed along the way.

Especially with today’s youth, awards are often larger-than-life motivations. Children work busily to complete their household chores with the hopes that it will earn them a special treat from their parents.

Meanwhile, the satisfaction of a clean home goes unnoticed. Teenagers bring home a stellar report card but can’t recall what they learned about at school that day. In their pursuit of good grades, they’ve somehow missed the thrill of gaining and applying knowledge.

Perhaps we unintentionally reinforce this attitude by expressing love or approval with expensive gifts, when little children are often quite pleased with the packaging; or even just the visit. We may deprive our young people of the most enduring rewards if we fail to teach them that goodness is its own reward. We feel good when we are doing good.

Indeed, the means can be just as fulfilling as the end if our motivations for achieving personal goals are not just the awards that dangle in front of us. We make more lasting progress and feel more contented when we learn to enjoy not only the reward but also the path that leads to it.

Some young people long to graduate or secure a high-paying job, only to find that their “dream” is not as gratifying as they thought it would be. “What comes next?” or “Is this all there is?” may be their unspoken feeling.

If, however, we pay attention to the more understated moments of success along the way, the times we completed a difficult task, the mornings we arose early to exercise or study, the people we’ve helped, we begin to understand that the true reward is what we’ve become, not what we’ve earned.

The Proverbs teach, “To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward” (Proverbs 11:18). Intuitively children seem to know that. They just need to be reminded that while a prize is pleasing, a sense of doing right is the truest joy.

We all know the law of the harvest: the fact that we tend to reap what we sow. And even when we sow carefully, we don’t always reap what we expected to.

One day a middle age woman planted a small garden of fruit trees and vegetable plants in her home garden which she had done in the past at her previous habitation.

In the past, her harvest had been abundant and rich, enough to share with family, friends, and neighbours. But this year was different. All through the growing season, her plants struggled. Temperatures fluctuated, insects invaded, birds raided, and squirrels sneaked in. Everything seemed to combine against her little garden. Despite her hard work and every effort, the gardener did not reap much and sometimes felt like giving up.

But was her garden really a failure? No, the expected harvest didn’t happen. But looking back, the gardener now recognised an unexpected harvest that came from that year’s garden, and it didn’t just happen at the end of the growing season.

Her garden was a spiritual refuge for her, a place of peace, and a haven of healing. There in the rain and soil and sunshine, she felt a little closer to heaven, and even inspiration seemed to come to her mind and heart more freely.

Pruning and weeding brought insights about dealing with the difficulties and challenges in her life. While nurturing plants, she nurtured her soul. Maybe the value of this harvest could not be accurately measured in strawberries and squash, in corn and cucumbers, but in the satisfaction of the soul, in the peace and healing and happiness that came as she laboured in her garden.

Sometimes the harvest is not what we expect. Even when we’re trying to grow food, what we’re really growing is ourselves—our understanding, our perspective, our character. That’s true no matter our field of endeavour. The effort is more important than the outcome.

If success were guaranteed, if the outcome were somehow decided in advance, the lessons learned may not be as rewarding. But when we dig deep enough, when we open our heart to the effort, we can come to see the abundance and richness of an unexpected harvest.

By Samuel Enos Eghan

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