05 September 2014

To Give More Than We Can Spare

I've been reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity lately, and I came across this passage which caused me to reflect--even more so than the rest of his wise and witty writing. The topic he's discussing is that of generosity, also known as charity. I've copied it below:

"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.
I mean who just does this kind of stuff? Doesn't it all sound kind of excessive?

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?
Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, this is so so beautiful. I am in tears and you have left me thinking deep, deep thoughts. So so much I could say but I've been left in such a wonderful upwelling of thoughts that I can't reply properly right now. Thank you, really, thank you so so much for this post.

Anonymous said...

This is powerful Rachel. I love all your practical ideas, thanks for sharing your heart and your story :)

Witchcrafted Life said...

This an exceedingly important message. Though one can give of themselves, their time, their energy and their resources to the point where they are doing more harm to themselves than good to others, in general I fully believe in helping, giving, lending a hand, and in general paying it forward however one can. You never know what seemingly small action you take might have a massive, longstanding - even life changing - impact on someone else, as that $50 did for you and Angel. It's the Butterfly Effect at work, big time.

♥ Jessica

Jennifer Prod said...

love love love your heart and thinking about how we can always do more to help one another and make this big world better for us all. i started out thinking i've never done the kind of generous giving you're describing, but.. you know what... this summer i volunteered somewhere and it was *really really* hard for me to show up every wednesday. the volunteering was uncomfortable, and i had to remind myself every minute that i was doing it for something greater than my own happiness. but i wondered about it - should we do things that make us uncomfortable, or should we find ways to give that make us cheerful? as the scripture says, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Katie @ Life Encouraged said...

Love this! Very convicting yet encouraging :) God ALWAYS provides! And we can be that vessel that is used by God to help others in need. That's love!

Tayler Morrell said...

God works in mysterious ways. But I love this post and that charter school is HUGE on service. We do a BIG service project right before Christmas Break for homeless children and I always teach my 7th graders "The Gift of the Magi," which really enunciates your point to give more than you can.

Unknown said...

This is a great reminder. I think there are different types of generosity and there are some that I am much better at than others. Being generous with *everything* we have takes courage. Great post!

The Lady Okie said...

I love CS so much. The thought of he and Tolkien chatting it up together just gets me. Great, great post.

Anonymous said...

This is so powerful. It really is so easy to become comfortable with giving the bare minimum. We're not hurting anybody, right? But that's not it... we're not helping anybody either by not giving or by holding on to our blessings with a closed fist. This was really so wonderful to read.

Charlotte Cornes said...

I love this post. It is truly beautiful. I know from experience that Jehovah provides us with what we need. Just the other weekend we are at our convention a few 100 miles away and we had a rough few days what with sick kids and hospital visits. The day we made the convention was a struggle and we had a brief chat with a family behind us. The next day, one of the members of the family came to find me and said "I hope this helps you out" then put £100 in my hand. I literally burst into tears, I couldn't believe this strangers generosity. I always try to keep the words of Paul in mind "let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for god loves a cheerful giver" 2 cor 9:7
The way you wrote this was beautiful :-)

Susannah said...

What an amazing reminder! Nate is so good at being generous and it's something that he's gradually had to teach me throughout our marriage. Sometimes I'm a slow learner but I'd like to think I'm better now than I was three years ago.

Megan said...

Very challenging post! In a country of excess, giving is easy. We have extra money, clothes, food, etc. It is rare to give until it hurts or give sacrificially.

Kim @ Kimberley's Quests said...

This post was amazing! I am going to have to read it many times I think, just to try and sink the message in. I've always been one to give, a little, but I never thought about giving enough to inconvenience myself. Adopting this way of thinking, even for a moment made many of my choices seem selfish. There are so many little things I could be doing to help improve someone's life and many could be done so easily. Thank you for opening my eyes a little today!

Kristina said...

Good post. Actually, it inspired me to reach out to someone. Giving excessively doesn't just have to be of our money or things. But yes, God can provide us the strength and ability to give even when it's not easy...

Unknown said...

You have listed some wonderfully concrete examples of what "charity" could look like. Thanks for the challenge to give till it makes a difference.

(reading your post via Essential Thing Devotions)

Kate said...

your post was exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks for sharing!

Shannon @ Of The Hearth said...

I love your list of suggestions of what generosity should look like. It's very convicting!
I hope it sticks with me and I can put some of the ideas into practice.

Jen Lud said...

What a beautiful post. When our family moved to Germany they had no temporary housing for us. They were supposed to, until we received our housing assignment, but something had happened and we were about to be put in the attic space of some old Army barracks - me, my husband, and my little girl. Imagine my shock when this family, whom I had never met before in my life, offered for us to stay in their little two bedroom apartment with them. They fed us, let us use the shower, bathroom, phone, and TV, and became good friends. They'd known us for 2 minutes and invited us into their home. We had to stay there for six weeks - four adults and two small kiddos in a mini-apartment in Germany. I'll never forget it and hope to someday return such generosity.

Why Girls Are Weird said...

A few years ago when I was with my ex I lost my job. I wasn't working for 6 months and money was insanely tight. We had a lot of bills and I had to scrounge every single penny to get us by.

One of my ex's coworkers came up to him at work one day and gave him a gift card for our local grocery store. A gift card with $200. He said he'd been in our place once and knew how it was.

We knew for a fact this man and his family wasn't super well off, and $200 is a lot of money for anyone. It meant the world.

Truly there are some amazing people in the world. It is astounding.

Mrs. Cheerio said...

Moved to tears by this. Such a wonderful post.

Alicia | Jaybird said...

Rachel, this is an exquisite idea. I learn this lesson of generosity almost daily from one of my roommates (a best friend since high school) who is always cheerfully looking to serve and support others. His example inspired me--and humbled me--to make generosity one of my guiding words for this year. Thank you for spreading such a great quote and examples.

Cramer Coffee and Jesus said...

First of all, I finally get to catch up on a week's worth of reading over here and this is the first post I read. loved it. you have a good heart my friend. I loved the $50 story...God always takes care of His children!

Unknown said...

My first reaction was of being taught that one should not give away so much that they become a burden by then requiring a handout themselves. As I continued to read and reflect, I realized that I was using that teaching as a wall to protect my feelings that we do not have enough ourselves to be able to give to others. But that simply is not true. In dollars and time, there is always more to give, more to do, and it is possible to do this even if it's going to hurt a little, sometimes especially so. There is a big (and also sometimes very tiny) leap from feeling a little hurt to becoming reliant on charity. Thank you for this important reminder.

Unknown said...

Rachel- these ideas are awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your heart and also being honest about your struggle with generosity. I have to say being generous is hard for me at times too.

Holly @ Coordinator of Chaos said...

beautiful! and the story about the $50 - God is so good!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful we ALL can learn from...Yes, give more than we can spare; give more than just the "throw-aways" that we are getting rid of anyway!

I totally understand the part of Angel quitting his job and wondering how things will work out - no matter how much we plan, sometimes our plans don't carry us through...and the joy to receive such a gift from a total stranger!

When I lost my job in 2010 - I had several people give us - money, gift cards, food, etc. etc. I even had someone pay for the accomodations for a retreat I had paid for before losing my job...I had actually put the funds aside, but they wanted to do that for me.

Read this from iwillbloom's Kindness Counts Friday on Jan. 16th! Thank you so much for sharing and opening our eyes!