Lifewise Activities: Volunteer Smart

Ready to volunteer? Before you dive in, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind to make your experience the best it can be.

The empty nest years can be a valuable time of life, especially if you want to focus on running “with endurance the race that is set before [you]” (Hebrews 12:1) so that you will finish strong, as Paul encouraged us to do (2 Timothy 4:7). To serve God and others, use your extra time to become a volunteer.

What might that look like? While volunteering offers a wonderful sense of freedom — such as the ability to choose how long and how much you want to work — that doesn’t mean it’s entirely without structure or potential pitfalls.

Your motivation

Keeping an open attitude and perspective are of prime importance. In a very real sense, they will direct the course of your endeavors and set the tone for your entire experience as a volunteer.

What’s your motivation? It’s vital that you begin the volunteer journey by asking yourself why you want to get involved in doing something you aren’t obligated to do. Bear in mind you might have both healthy and unhealthy reasons for doing this. If you’re hoping to prove something — for example, that you aren’t “over the hill” — or you’re attempting to lift your low spirits or boost a sagging ego, you may want to give the matter further thought. There are better and more appropriate ways of addressing these issues.

Remember, too, that at this life stage it’s important to be selective about what you decide to do. After all, you have a limited amount of time, and you want to be sure to optimize the experience by making wise choices. On the whole, if your motive is a scriptural one — a desire to serve others for Jesus’ sake — then you’re probably on the right track.

Anticipate obstacles

Volunteering can be a deeply rewarding experience, but it’s a good idea to approach it realistically. You may encounter subtle resistance in your efforts to make a difference in others’ lives. There’s no denying our culture glorifies youth while questioning the ability of “vintage” people.

You may question your ability yourself. Be aware of all this, but don’t let it get you down. If you feel God leading you in a particular direction, move forward and trust Him with the outcome. Be kind, patient, quick to listen and slow to speak in your dealings with others. The Lord will bless you for it.

You may also experience other difficulties or frustrations on the job. Some organizations don’t know how to make the most effective use of volunteers. Others lack good leadership, guidelines and training programs. And of course, some of your tasks may have tedious, boring or unpleasant aspects to them. Don’t get discouraged if you run into any of these roadblocks. Remember that the goal in service is simply to be faithful, even in the midst of irritating details.

Define expectations

Before volunteering, make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Be clear in your mind about what you’d like to do and where you feel your passions lie. Find out what the organization expects of you and bear in mind that you may need to stay flexible. Most organizations have parameters in place regarding minimum hours and the amount of activity they require. It’s important to check out all of this upfront to make sure you aren’t taking on more than you can handle.

Beforehand, decide your boundaries and margins and how you’ll get the self-care you need in order to maintain your energy. Remember, you’re volunteering, so you don’t have to agree to anything. On the other hand, if you sign up, it’s important to show up. So start slow and build from there.

Get started

If you aren’t sure where to begin, simply Google “How to Volunteer.” You’ll discover a number of resources to give you all the information you need. You can also visit the website of Volunteers of America for your city or general locality. For example, in Colorado, it’s

If you have a clear idea of your desires and interests, make the search more specific. For instance, if you’re handy with tools, contact Habitat for Humanity. If you want to minister to the sick and dying, investigate opportunities to work with local hospice care organizations.

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