on giving [and living] generously


: freely giving or sharing money and other valuable things

: showing kindness and concern for others 

After I mentioned our family project on Facebook last week, a friend commented about the intentions she and her husband had set forth in 2013 and are recommitting to in 2015-- one of them is "live generously." As I began thinking more about this aspect of give me enough, it became clear to me that I need to make this year not simply about giving money generously, but, as my friend worded it: about living generously. 

Today I'll chat/ramble incoherently about how freely giving or sharing money and other valuable things, and showing kindness and concern for others can play out in the day-to-day.

To be honest, once we have established the habit of setting money aside to give off the top and we've worked it into our budget, setting up an auto-deduct for our charity of choice or writing a check each month to drop in the box at church is not particularly difficult, not very sacrificial, and it doesn't feel like "trust"-- it feels like paying a bill.  Now, it's not that we couldn't use the money we give--I'm sure we could.  After years, I've just gotten used to working with whatever is left over, and it's always enough.  I don't believe the lack of sacrificial feeling means that the automatic giving is ineffectual, but I think for us it probably means it's time to go beyond, give more, and continue digging deeper. 

Here's a tiny example: one thing I especially appreciate about Compassion's sponsorship program, is the correspondence that happens between sponsor and child.  One of my girls addresses me as "my beautiful queen"...how could I not love that?  But here is the not-so-flattering truth: it is much easier for me to record that deduction each month than it is for me to sit down and write a letter to our children. In fact, it often doesn't happen.  Here is an opportunity to be generous with "my" time, even if it's sometimes a little difficult to think of what to write, or if I'd really rather read a book or nap a bit when I have a free afternoon.

The fact that we are already giving money should never excuse us from giving something else, maybe even everything else, when we have the opportunity. Because I believe Jesus wants to heal all of me, and he tells us that when we lose our life for his sake, we will gain it.

As for sharing or giving other valuable things, how generous am I, really? Would I give my very most-est favorit-est? Would I give my second pair of snow boots to someone who had none? Or, further in, would I give my only pair of snow boots and wear less desirable snowy footwear? How dearly do I value my neighbor? How dear do I count my comfort?

Then there is this quote from St. Isaac of Syria, which knocks generosity into soul-realm: 

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts. 

Forgiveness? Laying down my soul? This is generosity? What about just how well I suffer and forgive the near-constant assault of my auditory and physical space by my offspring? How generous am I about that?  (I am not generous with it, if you must know. The noise especially is something that drives me to the edge most days. My teeth are crumbling from so much talking through them.)

What ideas do these thoughts then give me toward my desire to give and live generously?

look to give in small ways to whomever is in my path

  • eye contact and a real "thank you" to the cashier and bagger at the grocery
  • a "just because I love you" smile to my son
  • giving a kind word when I think it (often I think it but don't say it)
  • encouragement in whatever form I can manage, because we all need some
  • physical touch in greeting acquaintances-- probably a gentle and brief hand on the shoulder is a good bet if I am not on hugging terms with the person, but only to members of the same sex or members of the opposite sex if 20 years older or younger.
  • sorry to all men between the ages of 11 and 51--if we are not on hugging terms (they do exist in this demographic, but are rare), I am not going to touch you on the shoulder in an effort to be generous; it is too awkward. 52 year-old men, it's your lucky day, but only until my birthday
  • also, if I hesitate before touching your shoulder, please know I am just doing some in-house computations to figure out if you qualify

give away some of my favorit-est things

  • look really hard at what I need and what I have that someone else might need more than I do
  • enjoy the thrill of surprising someone with an unexpected gift
  • bonus if they'll never discover who it was from
  • note: burdening someone else with junk I'm just trying to get rid of is not generosity

and just a few big ideas for giving

When my family brainstormed about Big Things to save for last weekend, we also came up with these Big Ideas for someday giving:

  • sponsor a Leadership Development Student through Compassion 
  • support the Orthodox orphanage and school in Guatemala that we've learned about through our parish priest; possibly visit and help in some way (I can pat all the kids under age 11 on the shoulder, maybe give hugs!)
  • support projects in our own town
  • establish a helping fund of our own, to make sure we have something available to give whenever we hear of someone in need, near or far

one thing Jesus said about giving was this: 

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them.  Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you...but when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward your openly.  -Matthew 6:1-4

Because of this, I don't plan to do a lot of talking about how the generous giving is going this year on the blog. I may let you know about the eye contact and appropriately-brief-yet-warm shoulder touches though.

Whew. I think that covers all I've come up with so far for this project (though I do have some itchy words up my sleeve on contentment). Since I'm making the rules, it's all subject to development or refinement, but no cheating allowed.  On Wednesday, back to our regularly scheduled program (whatever that is). Love to you, and blessed week.

PS Click here for all posts and updates on this project!