Paying It Forward

I remember one of the first feature articles I submitted to my kind friend Sue Duffy, then editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine. It wasn’t awful, but it missed the mark in several ways. Instead of rejecting it outright, she wrote me a long email explaining how to make it better. She was specific, instructional, and kind. 

And while my ego smarted, I realized her suggestions were spot on and would do much to improve my article and make me a more responsible journalist. I scrapped the piece and started over again, carefully following her suggestions. “An editor’s job,” she reminded me, “is to make a writer look good.” 

Some days I’d get so frustrated. “They tell me I’m over my word limit,” I’d mutter to my sympathetic husband, “and then ask me for more information.” But I’d nip and tuck, squeeze and slice, and somehow manage to include all the glorious details to flesh out my story and make it come alive. Sue and associate editor Aida Rogers honed my writing over a period of several years, and their voices in my head continue to advise me to this day. 

Now I’m the editor asking for fewer words and more details. The one about whom reporters mutter to their spouses. The one whom, I hope, is helping writers look good and hone their craft. I want to pay it forward. 

Paying it forward is not a new concept. The 2000 movie, Pay It Forward, based on Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book of the same name, sparked an almost cult-like following according to Wikipedia, as a way to invoke positive change worldwide. 

Paying it forward, though, didn’t originate with this movie or book. 

King David was an amazing, real-life example of the concept of paying it forward--expressing gratitude for the kind acts of others by performing a kind act to someone else. From the moment David set foot in Saul’s palace as a young teen, he and Saul’s son Jonathan were best friends. “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself,” 1 Samuel 18:1 recounts. 

As David’s ability as a warrior grew and his popularity increased, King Saul became more and more jealous. It soon became apparent that Saul would stop at nothing to have David killed. At great personal danger, Jonathan warned David to flee for his life and delayed Saul in pursuing him. Years passed while Saul chased David in a murderous rage. Jonathan lost his life in battle, and God finally fulfilled his promise to make David King of Israel. But he never forgot the kindness of Jonathan. And he paid it forward. 

"Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" he asked his servant Ziba, in 2 Samuel 9.

"There is still a son of Jonathan;” Ziba replied, “he is crippled in both feet." So David took Mephibosheth into his house and allowed him to live there and eat from his table forever. 

Like King David and Mephibosheth, we’ve all been the recipients of kindness. Perhaps God sent a benefactor your way when you were struggling to make ends meet. Maybe someone saw gifts and talents you were unable to recognize in yourself and spoke words of encouragement and vision. Maybe, like me as a new writer, someone took you under his or her wing and taught you what you needed to be successful. What if we pondered the things for which we are thankful and then looked for ways to pay it forward? 

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Paul instructs us in Philippians 2:4. Sounds like good encouragement to pay it forward. 

How about you? In what way has someone invested in your life? Leave a comment below and tell us how you’ve tried to pay it forward. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might like "What Were You Created For? 

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  1. I enjoyed this post, but since you started off with talking about editing, I have to point this out. In your first paragraph about David, you mention that as soon as "he set foot in Solomon's palace," and I think it should be Saul's palace. :)

    1. Good catch, Nikki! Thanks for pointing that out. Accuracy is a must :)

  2. This idea could be a neat theme for an upcoming issue of ROC. :)