September 17, 2011

generosity quagmire

(Note: I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here except myself. I’m just trying to wrestle with my own humanity.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity. Seems simple enough. It’s about sharing and giving, about open hands and hearts. But as with most subjects, start to dig and you find out there’s nothing simple. God is pretty clear that He wants us to be generous with our love, our resources, our very lives. So I think it’s worth pondering.

I have a friend who thinks she is very generous. She has a good job she’s able to give a lot away. And she does. But recently, when she was giving to me, I noticed that her giving always has strings attached. She expects something in return—sometimes that’s attention, sometimes praise, and sometimes a bowing to her will.

And that got me thinking—does generosity have strings attached? Can we be generous if we expect something in return? Is generosity about filling a need or about giving abundantly? What if we DO get something in return, does that negate the generosity?

Let’s go back a few years to a time that I was without a car and without a job. One friend had a car that she wasn’t using (she was traveling). Other friends (a married couple) had two cars, both of which they used regularly. The first friend said I could use her car, but only if I needed to go to a job interview. The other friends handed me the keys to one of their cars and said, “take it for the week, it’s yours.” Loaning me the car was no inconvenience to the first, and quite an inconvenience to the second (it meant more carpooling and getting rides in order for them to accomplish everything they needed to do as a family). Both were meeting a need, but was only one being truly generous?

I like to give stuff—and yet I find myself sometimes feeling jipped when my gifts are not acknowledged. Earlier this year I took a meal to a family who had been through some rough times. I was happy to help out because they had a need. Yes, I spent more in making them a meal than I usually spend on food for myself for a week (because I’m one and they are four). I dropped it off at the house with a note.

And I never heard anything from them. They never mentioned the meal, never said “thank you.” Nothing. I waited three months, and still, no word.

Which made me feel like my gift had been scorned and unappreciated. I gave because I wanted to bless them. There’s no rule that says you have to say thanks, but it is polite. But because they didn’t, my desire to share another meal in the future is dimmed, squashed, even snuffed out.

When it comes to giving to people I don’t know, I’m even worse—I want to make sure they use the money or resources wisely. Yet I have no control over what they do, so I don’t give. And that’s me being ungenerous. And that bothers me.

So all of that to say that I’m struggling with how to be more generous. How to give with an open hand, to not put requirements or expectations (even “thank you”) on my giving. It’s hard. I haven’t figured it out. I’m glad I have some friends who do this well—I keep watching and try to learn more from them.

What do you think? How do you see generosity? Can we be generous with expectations? Should we give until it hurts? Talk to me!


Sarah said...

I am not sure if I should say "thank you".... now I am going to be thinking, wrestling, working on being generous. Sometime I catch myself saying no to my kids for no other reason than pure selfishness. Wonder what they would think if I started being more generous than selfish??

Anonymous said...

A very thought provoking post Sara!! Generosity is a much deeper subject than one would think. I, too, struggle with the things you mentioned and I am with Sarah.... I find myself saying no to my kids purely for selfish reasons. Hmmm.... Off to ponder how I can be more generous now too.

stephanie said...

Something I read once that really stretched me was that charity is giving away what you NEED. Giving away what you don't need is benevolence. Most decent people are benevolent.

When I think of generosity I think of the March girls giving up their Christmas breakfast to the Hummels in "Little Women". Generosity requires sacrifice. You ask, if we give until it hurts. I think we should or we're not really being generous.

It is much easier to think and write about than to actually do, though. I often fall very short of the ideal. I like being comfortable.

As far as expectations go we are to do all for the glory of God and not for the praise of men; but I
don't think there is anything wrong with feeling hurt when someone neglects to thank us for what we do /give. It is hard - and perhaps the topic of another post entirely - but we can offer up that hurt feeling as a gift to God rather than allowing it to dampen our zeal to serve Him by serving others.

Great thought-provoking topic!

Sara said...

thanks ladies!

I am trying to not only be more generous with time and other resources, but to be more thankful when people are kind to me. I sometimes have the princess mentality that I deserve to be taken care of, so it's challenging for me to remember to say thank you (of course, when I get frustrated by people not saying it that's a reminder to me to say it!)

Valerie said...

Stephanie hit the nail on the head - we are not really being generous when we give away things we don't need. A topic we all need to think on.

MangyCat said...

It's so hard to give and not receive a thanks. For me, being a mother has helped squelch that need for a "thank you". (Motherhood is wholly thankless.)

Looking at it from a distance, I'd say that expecting a "thanks" IS in itself a bit of an attached string. If we give with the intention of getting something back (even a word), then we aren't truly giving anything away; we are asking to be repaid, whether with conditions or with gratitude.

Sara said...

I don't think the giving was done for the express intent of getting a thank you, it was more the lack of courtesy that bothered me, which is a whole n'other post :P