"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare...If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them."
Whoa. That made me pause. How often can I honestly say that I've given so much that it hurt me, that it inconvenienced me, that I had to go without because I gave so much of what I had away?
It's happened, sure, on rare, pitiably rare occasion. But I could not claim that being inconvenienced by my own generosity has been an overriding characteristic of my life.
Anyone can give out of their pocket money. It's easy to take the pennies returned to you as change from your McDonald's meal and drop them into the charity box right in front of the register simply because we don't want coins jangling around in the bottoms of our purses. Donating clothes we didn't want anyways to Goodwill could hardly be called giving at a cost to ourselves. But how often do we give more than what we consider to be the socially acceptable minimum? How often do we give until it literally hurts us?
I'm not a naturally generous person. Generosity is not my gut reaction, it's something I attempt to train myself in. I've had to learn, sometimes very slowly, to respond generously in appropriate situations. I've known people who are extremely, excessively generous, either by nature or because they've learned to be that way over a lifetime and they are a joy to be near. I hope to be like them when I grow up.
What does giving more than we can spare look like? To me, I think it looks like meeting others needs all the while trusting God to meet our own rather than constantly checking to make sure that we have plenty for ourselves. It probably means doing the opposite of "looking out for #1". It looks like serving others graciously and without bitterness even when it's really, really inconvenient at the time and I'd much rather be doing something more fun. I've seen this generosity before. Maybe in real life this sort of generosity looks like:
- Inviting someone, or even an entire family, to live in your home rent-free because they need a place to live for a season.
- When you're due for an automobile upgrade, choosing to give your old car to someone who just needs a way to get to work and back instead of selling it and using that money to help pay for your new car.
- Buying a refrigerator for a family whose fridge broke and has been found to be unfixable.
- Making room at the dinner table for unexpected hungry guests, slyly not filling your own plate much so that the food stretches.
- Meeting an elderly man who doesn't speak the primary language of the country he's in, who tells you he's hungry, and stopping in your plans to buy him a lunch at the Chik-Fil-A across the street, and sitting down to chat with him over the meal.
- Buying good shoes for someone with foot problems whose shoe budget is limited to flip-flops.
- Putting a check for more than the socially acceptable gift amount into a card for a high school graduate who needs to buy a laptop for college, or into a card for a young newlywed couple just starting out in life with almost no possessions to their name.
- Babysitting for free for parents who otherwise couldn't afford to go anywhere without their children.
- Giving away rather than selling brand-name clothing, not just the Walmart stuff.
- Being a professional cosmetologist/mechanic/accountant/housecleaner/carpenter/electrician/lawyer and offering your services for free to people who need them but can't pay for them--or even to those who could pay for them, but would find their budget severely strained.
- It's being told by a homeless guy that his shoes are in really bad shape, asking for his shoe size, telling him to wait right there, and running home and coming back asap with tennis shoes that'll fit him.
But I'm learning that the kind of generosity we are called to live is inherently excessive.
I've come to believe that if we expect to get a pat on the back, or, say, a "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Is that line familiar to anyone?) for giving out of our excess, for serving when it was fun and our friends were there too and the conditions were pleasant...we will find ourselves sorely disappointed.
I'd venture to say that generosity that doesn't cost us anything is cheap generosity. It's the bare minimum. Anyone could be expected to give when the giving of time or money or skills or resources is pleasant for them and won't cause them any discomfort or inconvenience. Instead of remaining in the infancy of giving I hope to grow, to stretch that generosity muscle, again and again. I pray that God will give me the courage I need to dive right in when I'm faced with opportunities for extreme generosity.
When we were still in the USA, we were sitting in church when the stranger sitting next to me leaned over, handed an envelope to Angel, said, very specifically, "This is for you," and then got up and walked away, even though the church service wasn't over. We found out later that the envelope contained $50, and no note. We don't know why a complete stranger gave us that money, but I'm convinced it was a God thing. That Sunday was just a few days after Angel had quit his job, and I was feeling nervous about the fact that we don't expect to get another paycheck till the end of September. I didn't have any real reason to be nervous--we knew this was coming and we've planned and saved for it, but for me, it was difficult to know that there wouldn't be another paycheck in two weeks, as there always has been. And at that precise moment...a stranger, for no apparent reason, gives us $50.
I cried. $50 is no small amount of money. That's a lot of groceries, right there, in anyone's home. To me, that was a little message from God saying, "Will you stop worrying about the money already? You'll be fine. More than fine. Now stop forgetting that."
I wish I could find that stranger and tell him what that $50 meant to me, in our situation, but I can't. What I can do is strive towards living in an excessively generous way
Have you ever come across a good example of someone who gave more than they could spare?