One person gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what they should give, and only suffers want. – Proverbs 11:24
My latest issue of Guitar Player magazine arrived in the mail just as the deadline for this issue drew near. Stuck to the front of the magazine was an advertisement informing me that giving a subscription to a lucky guitarist I know would be the “perfect gift.”
The slogan on the ad was: “Give it and get it. Got it?”
Yes, I got it – but not in the way the magazine’s editors might have hoped. For me the message was not about giving a gift subscription to a magazine, but about the larger message: If we give it, we get it. I got it.
The message of the passage from Proverbs took on a whole new depth for me. We all know the much parroted, but rarely followed line from the Prayer of St. Francis that tells us that “it is in giving that we receive,” but we don’t really “get it.” Rarely do those words sink so deeply into our souls and hearts that we can’t help but live them out.
When we really “get it” – when we understand that if we give freely we grow richer – or if we are stingy we will suffer – then generosity will be like breathing for us. Giving will be a reflexive action – an involuntary response to all the need around us. We really “get it” – that giving is what we have truly been born to do with our lives.
Lest anyone accuse me of preaching a prosperity gospel, let me say up front, when I say those who give freely get richer, I’m not talking about money, and neither is the author of Proverbs. The Hebrew word used here is yacaph, which simply means “to increase” or “to add.” The passage tells us that whatever we give will increase – not just those who receive, but the giver as well.
For example, when we do even the simplest act of kindness like letting someone ahead of us in line, or holding a door for someone, or smiling at a stranger – the act increases the happiness and joy of the receiver, but we also increase in our positive emotions. It makes us feel good to make others feel good. It makes our lives richer when we increase the emotional wealth of others.
Those who would use these passages to talk exclusively about how giving will increase us financially don’t “get it.” They have missed the entire point of thanks and giving. When we give, we may, indeed, get money or other things – but can never, ever, be the entire point – or even one shred – of our motivation to give.
Our motivation to give should come solely from the depth of our thanks. If we are shallow in our thanks, then we are consistently shallow in our giving. We suffer want when we withhold – not just giving, but when we withhold our thanks.
We are entering what is often called “the giving season” – a time when we hustle down to the mall and buy presents for everyone on our Christmas list. The giving season’s official start is often known as “Black Friday,” which, appropriately comes right after a day of “Thanksgiving.” After we celebrate our thanks, we hit the stores to celebrate our giving.
Unfortunately, much of our season of thanks and giving has become a shallow exercise in spending and debt creation. We stand in long lines early in the morning to catch the best sales or the be first to pick up the latest and greatest gadget that someone on our list desires more than anything. We make our own list of wants, check it twice, and disperse it to the givers in our lives, waiting anxiously to get it.
How often do we wait anxiously to “get it” when it comes to the real power of thanks and giving? How often do we anticipate the blessings upon blessings we will receive if we have truly, deeply given thanks before embarking upon giving?
Instead of charging out to the mall this year to charge up the credit cards to increase the stuff in your life and the lives of others, how about approaching the giving season with a different spirit this year?
The Advent Conspiracy has been going on for several years, encouraging people to “worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all” this season. Instead of giving material gifts, the Advent Conspiracy challenges us to give love, and time, to those around us:
Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving.
They also recommend giving one less gift this year, and instead spending your time and talents helping those on the margins – those that society has shunned or made invisible.
For LGBT people, we know what it feels like to be on the margins, to be demonized as the horrible “other” – the lepers of our day. Instead of becoming selfish and bitter, God continually calls us to “worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all” – to make each season the giving season.
Both the church and society have made it a practice to shun the gifts we bring – the uniqueness, the creativity, the beauty that LGBT people can create. However, that is no reason to stop giving our gifts. We must continue to give them relentlessly, whether they are appreciated or not.
We can only give, however, out of the depth of our thanks, and the LGBT community has plenty to be thankful for. Despite our persecution, despite the oppression and taunting that drive many in our community to the ultimate solution of suicide, we have much to be thankful for. God has created us with a unique mission to increase the love, and to increase the understanding in this world.
Remember, whenever we give we increase others, but we increase ourselves as well. The more wastefully we love, the more love returns to us. The more wastefully we give understanding, the more understanding returns to us. The more wastefully we give peace, the more peace returns to us. The more wastefully we give kindness, the more kindness returns to us. The more wastefully we bestow mercy on others, the more mercy comes our way.
We cannot gain the peace, love, mercy, and goodness we crave unless we first give it away – and give it out of the abundance of our thankfulness. God has endowed the LGBT community with an endless supply of these gifts. Our oppression, if it teaches us nothing, should teach us that life is precious – all life – even the lives of our enemies. We can only increase the understanding of our enemies if we give them our understanding. We can only increase their love if we give them our love.
We’ve been returning hatred for hatred for so long, and see where it has led us? To more and more hatred, more and more suicide, more and more suffering.
We must turn the tables, and we must take the first step to break this cycle of hatred and fear.
Let us create our own Advent Conspiracy this year. As LGBT Christians let us find ways to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all of those around us – even those who say they are our enemies.
You may not understand that right now, but try it, because when you give it – you will get it.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.