It’s in giving that we receive. (Prayer of St. Francis, 13th century saint)
When you give, You begin to live, You get the world. (“You Might Die Trying,” Dave Matthews Band, 21st century musical group)
I have what some people might call “issues” around money. I grew up in a fairly middle class family, the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher who apparently did pretty well for himself. We always had nice houses, nice clothes, nice toys — all the amenities of the American middle class.
It all fell apart when I was nine. My dad, who had left the pulpit to take a job as a chaplain for a major hotel chain, met another woman on one of his many out-of-town trips. He came home that last time, broke it off with mom and was gone. Shortly thereafter, our middle class followed him.
Mom had spent her life caring for five children, being the good pastor’s wife — giving up her own career for his. Now, without his support, she took what jobs she could — McDonald’s, housekeeping — anything to keep a roof over her head and the heads of the two children left at home.
It wasn’t enough.
The mortgage company came calling. Suddenly our subdivision paradise wasn’t ours anymore. The bank evicted us. We landed in a public housing project in an apartment too small for three people. Mom and I shared a bed for years until they found a bigger apartment for us.
To my pre-teen mind, the world had ended. Expelled from the Garden of Eden, I went to work when I was 13 and have been paying my own way ever since. Money was scarce, which meant things were scarce — toys, clothes… food.
We never went hungry. We were never homeless. My mother’s faith was often all any of us had. She would praise God for anything that we had — a meager dinner, hand-me down clothes, just enough money for the rent. From her, I learned that God does indeed provide — and that we should always be grateful for anything that we have, whether it’s creamed tuna or filet mignon.
But mom also instilled in me a precarious relationship with money. I recall that once I was out on my own, it seemed that I could never get ahead. I’d have a little money and then something would happen — the car would break down, the cat would get sick, some unexpected bill arrived in the mail. It always seemed that I had just enough to always cover whatever emergency arose.
I was distressed, but my mother praised God.
“God knew you’d need that money,” she’d tell me. “So, God provided.”
It never made sense to me. If God knew my car would break down, why not just fix the car? If God is almighty, God can surely keep a ’72 Cutlass in tip-top condition. But, I trusted my mom’s ideas about God — they had been proven over the years.
What developed in me from that theology was a deep aversion to money. Whenever I’d get a little bit ahead, I’d have an overwhelming sense of dread. What’s going to break? What bill is coming? Oh my God, did the cat just sneeze? I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Inevitably it did — my issues with money becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to put this all in perspective and begin to work through my issues with money. I realized that what I’ve been saying to the universe is, “Keep your money because I don’t want the crap that comes with it.” It’s no wonder I’ve never been a magnet for money — I keep sending it away!
Whosoever is a testament to my money issues. When I started the magazine, I naturally wanted it to be a printed magazine — which put me on a collision course with my money “issue.” For a magazine to survive it needs… well, money. Magazines raise money by selling ads. But since the head of this fledgling ministry had issues with money, and hated asking anyone else for any of their money, Whosoever was doomed. After four issues, the print version of Whosoever folded as quietly as it has begun — all because I unconsciously sent all the money away.
The paradox of giving
I hadn’t yet learned the key to receiving. St. Francis knew — even Dave Matthews understands — that receiving is paradoxical. We only get when we give. Whether it’s money, love, friendship, kindness, or even anger — it’s in giving that we receive. This is why we need to be careful what we give to the world. If we give love, we get love. If we give hate, we get hate. It’s a law, like gravity, that we can resist, but we cannot break.
St. Francis echoes the words of Jesus, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8). Thomas Jeavons and Rebekah Burch Basinger, in their book Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising As Ministry, note that:
[Jesus] indicates the clear expectation that one of the surest ways to know if someone has been touched by the experience of God’s grace and love and has chosen to be in relationship with God is by the evidence of participation in acts of charity and compassion (Matthew 25:31-45)… In short, Jesus encouraged his followers to live lives of service and giving rooted in and shaped by their experiences of God’s love, understanding of God’s faithfulness, and acceptance of God’s grace. (p.46)
Jesus makes it clear that the motives behind our giving are very important. We don’t “give to get.” Instead, our giving is a response to God’s love, faithfulness and grace. Certainly, we can give cynically — the law of giving works, no matter what — but when we give with a specific goal of getting, the experience of receiving is empty. To fully receive, to receive with a joy that motivates us to keep on giving, we must give from a place of selflessness — from a place of service to others, not selfishness.
The mark of a giver who has been touched and deeply affected by God’s love, faithfulness and grace is their selfless acts of giving. These are the people who give, expecting nothing in return — though what they receive is often greater than they have ever thought to give.
R. G. LeTourneau, a Christian businessman, once said, “I shovel out and God shovels in — but God’s shovel is always bigger.” When our giving comes from that experience of God’s love, faithfulness and grace, we can rely on God multiply our gifts and return them to us tenfold. “Giving,” Jeavons and Basinger wrote, “can be an act of trust in the beneficence of God, in the abundance of God’s grace, and in the possibilities for making a better world when we cooperate in that grace.”
Scarcity becomes abundance
What beautiful sentiments! But for those of us who have “issues” with money, it can be difficult to wrap our minds around the paradox of giving and receiving. I love St. Francis and his famous prayer. I want to believe that it is indeed in the giving that we receive. I want to believe Dave Matthews and to understand at a deep level that I only truly begin to live when I give — that I’ll get the world! It just doesn’t jibe with my checkbook ledger, however. If I give — how will I live? I need to cover my own expenses first, right? When I pay the bills and there’s barely enough left to live on, how can I even consider giving even more away?
Who hasn’t faced this conundrum? Who hasn’t looked at their bills and thought, “I don’t have enough to pay all of these, how can I give even more away? I can’t.” Then the feelings of guilt, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of not being a good enough Christian begin to creep in our minds. We feel terrible. We want to give. We know we need to give. We know that the Bible commands us to give, and not just that, but to give cheerfully! (2 Corinthians 9: 7)
As someone intimately familiar with scarcity, I understand these feelings, because I have felt them over the years. I know that Christians are expected to give, not just a tithe to their church, but to the community at large — to organizations and groups that advance the causes that we support. The motivation for that giving should be one of gratitude for all that we have received from God. We give because God has given so graciously to us.
But when we’re struggling financially, sometimes it’s hard to think that God has blessed us enough for us to give. We feel like we don’t have enough. Even if we want to give, we believe that if we do, then we’ll be the ones in need.
It’s exactly that thought — that I’ll be left lacking if I give what I have — that in the past has prevented me from giving. I suspect that I am not alone in that thought. It has taken me years to understand the paradox of giving that both St. Francis and Dave Matthews have been trying to teach me. I had to start small, giving a small percentage to my church. Even on a small scale, the results truly amazed me. I gave timidly, worrying that I might need the money — but I always, and I mean always, had enough. In fact, I always had more than enough.
Before I began giving — even meagerly — I would inevitably run short each month, waiting impatiently for that next paycheck. Once I made that step of faith, however small, the abundance came back to me in just the same measure — whatever I gave up I got, and then some. I had gotten just a taste of the law of giving — just a glimpse of the paradox of St. Francis and Dave Matthews.
Banishing thoughts of lack
Most often it is that thought of lack that keeps us from giving. We think there’s not enough to go around, and if we give up even a little of what we have, we’ll be the ones to suffer. What needs to change is not our income, but our attitude. If we continue to think thoughts of lack, we’ll create even more lack. What we think on grows and if we think that we don’t have enough, I guarantee that you won’t have enough. Lack thoughts will produce a reality of lack. What is needed then are new thoughts. We must banish all thoughts of lack and replace them with thoughts of abundance.
Jesus told us that he came to give us an abundant life. That means a life filled with everything that we need, and then some — because that’s what abundance means: A fullness to overflowing. If we lack for anything, it is because we simply have not asked for it. If we have asked for it and it does not appear, it is because we have not asked believing that it will be given. We’re still thinking thoughts of lack instead of abundance. God is ready to give good gifts to God’s children if only we ask in faith, believing that God’s abundance will flow to us. (Luke 10:9-13; Matthew 21:22)
Norman Vincent Peale tells the story of the magazine Guideposts that he founded in 1945. Early in its publication, the magazine hit rough waters. If you’ve ever seen Guideposts, you know that the magazine doesn’t include advertising — it is strictly subscriber-supported. In his book, The Tough-Minded Optimist, Peale recounts a particularly sullen staff meeting. Mounting costs and not enough subscribers threatened the magazine’s existence. They invited to this particular staff meeting a woman who had given generously to the magazine in the past. As she heard their latest tale of woe, she said, “I get the notion that you gentlemen expect me to make you another contribution. Well… I’m not giving you even one more cent.” [p. 104]
The men sank deeper into despair. This lady was their ace-in-the-hole and now, even that was gone. But, she wasn’t finished. Instead of money, she said she would give them something even more valuable — a “fresh, dynamic, and creative idea” that would solve all of their problems.
What she told them was to banish all thoughts of lack. Certainly the magazine lacked a lot — equipment, subscribers, ideas and faith. Instead of focusing on what they lacked, the woman asked them to fill their minds with thoughts of prosperity. She asked Peale how many subscribers they needed to survive. Peale replied that they had about 40,000 subscribers at the time and that 100,000 ought to be enough.
“All right then,” she replied, “let’s fix the figure of one hundred thousand subscribers in our thoughts. But first, let’s ask if we have prayed about this project, have we dedicated it to God and to human service? Are our motives unselfish and genuine?”
Then she asked each of them to visualize those 100,000 subscribers until they could see them clearly in their minds. After some time in thought, Peale said he finally saw in his mind “a vast number of people whom we were to serve and help.” [p. 106] Nothing changed after the exercise — the unpaid bills were still there, but the sense of dread that permeated the meeting at the beginning was gone. What changed were the people.
“New power was operating in us,” Peale wrote. “We could feel it. We were changed and so everything began changing for the better.” Today, Guideposts has more than a million subscribers and is going strong — all because the people involved banished all thoughts of lack. They trusted that God would provide, and God did.
Do not be confused. I am not preaching a prosperity gospel here. I am not preaching that you give to get — for that is what the prosperity preachers tell you: “If you do this, God will do that.” No, do not misunderstand. Remember, the Guideposts staff first prayed about their project and dedicated it to God and human service. Their motives were unselfish and genuine. God may indeed bring money or material success into your life if you banish thoughts of lack, but God may also bring in more intangible things — love, kindness, friendship, community, a sense of well-being, a sense of personal fulfillment.
Jeavons and Basinger tell the story of a family who decided to tithe regularly during a time of financial strain. They gave up “recreational expenditures” like dining out and movies. What the family discovered is that they had to learn new ways to enjoy each other’s company without spending money. Their commitment to giving forced them to take more time with one another and in the end, “the deeper appreciation they developed for one another and their family, as well as the satisfaction they derived from their giving, was a blessing far greater than any sacrifice they made to maintain their tithe.” [p. 29]
By giving money they did not receive money — instead they received a different kind of riches and a “deepened sense of God’s grace in their lives.” If you give money, expecting to get money in return, you may be sorely disappointed (as many prosperity gospel believers inevitably are), and in your disappointment you may miss out on the other riches — those non-tangible gifts — that you have received from your giving. As Dave Matthews points out, when you give, you get the world — and there’s more to this world than money. We shouldn’t be so focused on personal gain that we miss the incredible gifts that giving can produce in our lives.
Giving to create koinonia
It’s tempting for me to be like Peale and his associates and focus on what Whosoever lacks — enough money to pay a staff or branch out into new ministries. Despite the lack of resources, Whosoever has chugged along with modest success over the past 10 years. As we celebrate a decade of service to our community, our board of directors has dedicated themselves to banishing all thoughts of lack. We have a full slate of ministries that we want to launch in the coming months including regional/local small groups, providing spiritual direction, devotionals, and more in-depth educational material. We know that we will succeed because all our thoughts, all our efforts, are focused on bringing these things to pass.
We have prayed over these ministries, we have we dedicated it to God and to human service. Our motives are unselfish and genuine. We have visualized the millions that we want to reach, both within the GLBT community and without. We have seen, in our minds, the impact that we can have — the movement of spiritual renewal in which Whosoever can continue to play a vital role — and it thrills us.
That vision includes everyone who reads this magazine, everyone who has participated in our online community groups and everyone who wanders in here from a search engine. Anyone who has been touched by Whosoever, in big and small ways, are part of our vision to build a spiritual movement — a movement marked by community or fellowship — what Paul called “koinonia.”
Building that koinonia will require the dedication and contributions of people who find Whosoever to be a worthwhile organization. It also puts me right back in the middle of my issues with money. It’s still difficult for me to ask people for money, but now I realize that comes from my own issues around lack and scarcity. I have realized now that Whosoever is a ministry based in abundance. We have experienced that abundance – not in the form of money but in the form of a different sort of riches like that tithing family experienced. Over the years, more than 400 writers had donated their times and talents to this ministry. They have not demanded any money, instead contributing for the greater glory of God and to help those in our community struggling spiritually. Through our online community, many GLBT people of faith have found friends, support, comfort and reconciliation of their sexuality and spirituality. Through our online prayer group people have found a community willing to pray with them without judgment or recrimination. As editor, I have received many emails from readers who have told me that this ministry literally saved their lives. Indeed, Whosoever is rich in many ways. We are well on the road to creating a koinonia that can have an enormous impact on the world.
As we move into our tenth year on the Web, we envision the expansion of Whosoever‘s ministries – an expansion that will require monetary support from those who have benefited from our ministry. For a decade, Whosoever has had the privilege of sharing our resources with the GLBT community. Now, we hope that the GLBT community that we have served will feel privileged to share their resources with us. This is how that fellowship – that koinonia – is created – in solidarity. All of us are part of this community where the support of other members and God’s support can be found. It is this outpouring of grace that has set Whosoever on a path to expanded ministry. We hope that this grace will fill the hearts of our community as well and they will feel moved to support us as we seek to grow and reach even more hurting and struggling GLBT people of faith.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them to remember that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
For the past ten years, Whosoever has sowed sparingly, thus we have reaped sparingly. We hope to change that as we celebrate this milestone in our ministry. Whosoever will boldly, broadly and cheerfully sow within our community. We will be on the forefront of a spiritual movement that is already underway, transforming the church that has historically shunned us and a society that has, for too long, made us feel like second-class citizens.
We have banished thoughts of lack and claimed the promise of God’s abundance. We ask you to join us on our journey, both personally and corporately. Give cheerfully and understand the paradox of giving. It’s in giving that we receive. When we give, we begin to live – we get the world. Such profound advice from two profoundly different men: a 13th century saint named Francis of Assisi and a 21st century musician named Dave Matthews.
I invite you to embrace the paradox – banish all thoughts of lack and allow abundance into your life. Then, spread that abundance far and wide within our community. Both you and the organizations you support will reap a mighty harvest.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. 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 serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.