In the most recent installment of our series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues, we mentioned that kindness meant more than just charity. Of course, the two clearly still go hand-in-hand. And once recovering addicts and alcoholics have learned the basics of kindness, it is time to begin branching out and finding new ways of demonstrating generosity. After all, it’s really the least we can do to atone for the years we wasted on selfishness during active addiction.
Charity may be the most straightforward of all the Seven Heavenly Virtues. While kindness may be more straightforward than diligence, temperance or the surprisingly complicated array of definitions given for chastity, charity is more or less just one specific aspect of kindness. It is also one of the few virtues that was kept intact from the Three Theological Virtues when they were added to the Four Cardinal Virtues to comprise the list we know today. On top of that, it’s one of the easier virtues to analyze when attempting to determine its opposite from the list of Seven Deadly Sins, as charity stands in direct contrast to the sin of greed.
Nonetheless, it is still worth analyzing the value of embracing charity in our recovery from addiction and alcoholism. As straightforward as it is, there are multiple ways in which we may choose to practice it—and a few of these are particularly recommended to those who wish to make the most of their recovery. Anyone wishing to overcome their character defects and live a life of sobriety would do well to take this lesson to heart, as it is through our charitable works that we may hope to unlock some of the brightest portions of the human soul.
Defining Charity as a Heavenly Virtue
In some theologies, charity is seen as a love for one’s Higher Power. The sense of charity as we know it today is embedded within this concept, as many feel that it is through our benevolence that we express gratitude for the gift of life. Not just our own lives, but life itself—including the lives of others. By extending a hand of friendship to those in need, believers are acknowledging that every single person on this earth was put here for a reason. Furthermore, they are expressing the belief that everyone has the right to be given a chance at a better life.
In the text of the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares charity to be the greatest of virtues exhibited by man. Not only that, but he essentially says that all other mortal attributes are nothing without a strong sense of benevolence:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
As is the case with many such passages, some have interpreted parts of this text differently. But one interpretation which serves the purpose of understanding benevolence as a necessary virtue is that, like it or not, our time on this realm is limited. We may try to improve ourselves through knowledge and wisdom, but these will only last as long as we do. Yet the good deeds we do are everlasting. Every time we reach out and touch even a single life, we have the potential to change the entire world. For you never know just who will be inspired to pass on the light that you have shown them.
Charity’s Role in Addiction Recovery
All preaching aside, charity truly is vital to our recovery. We have noted in several articles that service work in recovery is of utmost importance. As the saying goes, “you must give it away to keep it.” Every time we sponsor another person, listen to their story when they are feeling down, or even just share in a meeting, we are potentially aiding another person in their efforts to maintain sobriety. And with every person we help, we will be that much less inclined to relapse. Think of it this way—we cannot counsel someone without sharing our own experiences, which reminds us where we have been and how far we have come.
But there is more to it than that. In order to fulfill the Second Promise and let go of our guilt over the past, we have to start giving our life a new sense of purpose. Helping others is one of the best possible ways to do that. Pursuing career and relationships might seem as if they would help for a time, but these earthly pursuits can only get us so far in our journey to live a more meaningful life. As Paul noted above, the good we do through charity has quite a bit more staying power.
This is why we may consider seeking service commitments outside the realm of sobriety. Those with enough money to do so may consider donating to a cause they deem worthy. If there is a particular cause about which you are passionate, see if you can write a check. Better yet, see if there are any opportunities for volunteer work. Donations are extremely helpful, but it is also quite easy to make a donation while still feeling detached from the cause. When you actually roll up your sleeves and make a perceptible difference, you will get a lot more out of it.
For the sake of tying charity to diligence, it’s worth saying that opportunities for service work will sometimes find you. Be on the lookout for people in need. If you see someone caught on the side of the road with a flat tire, pull over and see if they need any help. You have no idea how much you will brighten their day just by offering, let alone actually helping. People like to know that they are not alone in this world, that even perfect strangers are capable of showing care for others. And much as service work in AA or NA may strengthen your own program, you just might find that your spontaneous works of charity in the service of a complete stranger will help to make your own day shine a little brighter.
Learning to Favor Charity Over Greed
Much like the other virtues we have discussed, it is easy to let go of our more generous side when we are not consistent about it. All it takes is one day where we get greedy and treat ourselves a bit more excessively than we should, and it can be a lot harder to work up the motivation to turn things back around. We addicts do not take long to become spoiled when given the opportunity to spend our time on greed rather than service.
Greed is similar to lust and gluttony, and in many ways encompasses both. In fact, it even encompasses envy when you really think about it. Rather than simply committing a few greedy acts here and there, greed can become a mindset if we are not careful to avoid it. When this happens, it will not take others in our lives very long to notice. Any trust we have built up during our recovery might be compromised if people see that we are returning to our old, selfish behaviors.
For this reason, it is not enough to do spontaneous service work or to help other addicts only when our sponsors ask us to do so. To an extent, these are mere favors. In the true spirit of charity, we must go out of our way to help others. The best way to do this is to take on a regular service commitment, something we can do at least one or two times per week (if not more) in order to keep our sense of charity strong.
Charity is not always for the light-hearted. Those who truly go out of their way may hear some tragic stories for which they were unprepared. But they will also walk away with a clearer understanding of the world in which we are living, and the knowledge they gain from those they have helped will enable them to truly appreciate everything they have. It is far easier to let go of our greed when we are regularly confronted with people who have less than we have ever had in our entire lives. If you pay close enough attention to the lessons that your charity may have to offer, there is little doubt that your benevolent works will help you stay sober for another day.