“For it is in giving – that we receive” -Part of The Prayer Of St. Francis Of Assisi
“Love is something, if you give it away Give it away, give it away Love is something, if you give it away You end up having more” -From the Children’s hymn “Magic Penny” by Malvina Reynolds
“Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift!” -2 Corinthians 9:15
Although I am fairly certain that I have made reference to them previously – perhaps more than once – in the ten years I have been a regular contributor to Whosoever, I feel that it is definitely relevant to make reference to them once again here, especially when considering the subject of what it means to be giving.
Two framed prayers – the Lord’s Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, remain to this day strategically placed on the wall in the kitchen just above the coffee maker (in order to guarantee that I see them every morning), and have been in that same location for over ten years. I recall how they came into my life very vividly; they were being sold as part of a Christmas charity fundraiser for the United Church of Christ I was attending in the late 1990s and had only recently begun attending at the time. I had been seeking some framed art to cover up the glaringly white vacant spaces of the walls of the home I was residing in at that time and sought something representative of the spiritual awakening that had recently occurred in my life a few months prior, and not only did these fit that purpose perfectly, they also offered an opportunity for me to give to others who were in need in the process.
I elected to purchase no less than a total of four of these framed pieces, each with a nice frame and on a nice matte background, powerful words of wisdom simply printed out in a very elegant bold, italic font in the center. The first two – a copy of the encouraging inspirational poem “Don’t Quit!” by John E. Gosser and “The Power Of Commitment” by Goethe also still decorate my walls as well – those two are strategically placed in my office nearby the desk above the computer and offer a jolt of encouragement when I find myself working late on one of my numerous freelance gigs, or merely checking e-mails after a busy day. But the Lord’s Prayer and St. Francis have never moved, they always find placement in a location where I am certain to see them very shortly after waking in the morning as I get my daily caffeine and gear up to face the day.
While the morning java is brewing (unfortunately, I have never found out how to set the timer on the Gevalia, and I’m the only one here who drinks a lot of coffee – girlfriend doesn’t care for it much and the cat runs from the smell of it – so I invariably am the one to make it) I spend a few moments reading and reflecting on both prayers as part of my morning pre-gym and off for the daily commute routine. Their truth resonates within me each time I read or recite them, and the truth they have manifested in both life experience and my spiritual journey offer a spiritual sustenance that is far more important to me than the caffeine and offers far more of an energy boost than even the most perfectly brewed and potent cup of Starbucks’ French Roast could even begin to provide (and my signature coffee usually is pretty potent, at least given the feedback I receive from others).
I have written on my feelings on both prayers and the meaning they hold for me in the past. While I could spend a lengthy time here reflecting on what both prayers in their entirety mean to me and the rationale of that meaning on a personal level, I want to focus on two parts of each that always stand out to me as they relate to the concept of being giving.
The first is a portion of the Lord’s Prayer, the part which states the humble, honest and simple request that God “Give us this day our daily bread.” While on the surface level, many assume this to represent a physical manifestation of sustenance and nourishment (the food, clothing, shelter and basic comforts, things we need to survive and even things important to us on a personal level) – a point on which I would agree – I see it as something deeper, a different form of spiritual nourishment and sustenance, the kind that can keep us going even if the cupboards are bare and empty.
“Daily bread” to me is something God provides in abundance daily, and on a multitude of levels; for each individual it could mean something different. But the deepest metaphorical meaning of the statement at its core is universal to me; in a nutshell, it is, “Please remind me of the strength and the gifts You have given me as I get through the day, and thank You for my realizing that You have taken care of my needs.” And God always does, in my experience, enlighten us to the fact that everything we could ever need has been provided to us, if only we open our hearts, eyes and minds and believe it. While we ourselves cannot always expect the clouds to open and for it to literally rain manna as we have to do the work required to get it, God created it all nonetheless and gifted us with the requirements to obtain it.
This never fails to remind me that God is a giving God; each day as I wake, look around, breathe and live, recall blessings past, enjoy the present ones, and remain hopeful and confident of future ones that have not arrived in my life, there is absolutely not a shred of doubt that none of it would happen without the Source. Whatever it is good that happened in my life, or what I have achieved or attained, I could have done nothing without the abilities I was given to do them. This is a predominant reason why a great percentage of my prayer time is involved with expressing, or feeling a deep sense of gratitude, one that fills me with peace and helps me to face whatever trials the coming day may carry with it. Accompanying this sense of gratitude is a yearning to express it; every day I find my soul inquiring, “How can I begin to say thank You?”
Which leads me to The Prayer of St. Francis. While the entire prayer offers a beautiful instruction for how to come closer to God and a highly effective recipe for inner peace and oneness with God and others when practiced, the thirteenth line is anything but unlucky (for any who cling to old superstitions!):
“For it is in giving that we receive”
For many years of my life, although I knew the act of generosity carried with it good feelings, I wasn’t sure exactly what that concept of receiving merely by giving was or what it meant. In a world and a society where so many teach us what I feel to be toxic lessons like “look out for number one” and the even more abhorrent, “he who dies with the most toys wins” and there is a general attitude of mistrust of others (especially in these trying times), there are many who seem to have lost a connection with the simple truth and spiritual value of this assertion. I was fully aware of the good feelings that it felt to be giving (although today those are magnified far past what they were then). Yet through experience, I have found it to be nothing but a beautiful and soul enriching truth: when we give, we do receive. It is its own reward.
I feel that the act of being selflessly, openly and freely giving is not some sort of metaphysical down payment on a later blessing or a pious act to curry God’s “favor” (as I feel God “favors” no one of us above the other at any time), and I believe that what we receive in giving is not a karmic result we claim as some sort of cosmic reward for our generosity at a later date (although more often than not those very scenarios can and often do take place as sort of a natural reaction.) No, the very act of giving in and of itself is its own reward, and for me, giving is my way of saying Thank You to God for all God has already done for me, rather than a method of requesting some sort of reciprocation as a result of my actions.
Those two prayers serve as a constant and daily reminder of the importance of being giving and generous as opposed to self serving or self absorbed, which is all too easy for anyone to allow themselves to become ensnared in, especially during difficult times and the hectic and occasionally stressful nature of day to day life. (I have to remind myself constantly that nowhere did Jesus ever say we would never experience any trials as a part of life, in fact more than a few times He taught the contrary while teaching us how to get through the tough times). I know the importance and the value of being giving very deeply, yet frustration can arise when I am not certain of the means by which I can or will go about expressing it.
When asked to define what it means to be giving, to give all that we can, or to be generous, the first assumption or conclusion that our minds seem to logically gravitate to is offering some sort of monetary donation – be that tithing to our church, giving a part of our earnings to a cause we feel passionately about, or even gifting money to family, friends or even complete strangers or some we might perceive as an enemy in some cases. Although far from being the only method of doing so, all of those can represent being giving.
But what if we do not have a large amount of income to set aside for such a purpose? (I cannot and will not call it “disposable” income as a friend of mine has called it in order to avoid making any type of donation: while I understand that all he is saying is that he does not have extra income beyond his needs, I cannot call any income given out of caring and generosity for another as “disposable.”) What if we feel as if we truly have little or nothing to offer when the offering plate – both literally or metaphorically – passes down to us?
I have experienced this very feeling of financial inadequacy as it relates to giving. There are so many causes I wish I could donate to, or be able to donate more to: Cancer research, AIDS research, pro-LGBT organizations, research for Multiple Sclerosis (a horrible disease that my Mother has struggled with for years), other types of research as well as organizations supporting those in need, my church denomination – not merely because I or my family, friends or loved ones are directly affected in some way by all of the above, but merely out of either having seen the effect certain afflictions have caused others or recognizing a need for greater resources among certain organizations, I feel a strong urge to help and give what I can give.
These are rough times financially, and we’re not very wealthy in a monetary sense. Most of the time, we’re barely skating by, even though at the present I find at least 60-80 hours per week working at one of three jobs, one full time and two nearly full time on the side. There are debts high enough to make me hopeful that my creditors will take the portion of the Lord’s Prayer in some versions about “forgiving our debtors” to heart, past due bills, medical bills, expenses which have added up over time. All of them will get taken care of, but the financial restrictions can impede upon my desire to give from what income resources are available.
Yet I always strive, as many do, to do what I can from a financial perspective, even at times when it seems like I cannot. Sometimes, on the money side of things I find myself having to make a little go a long way and every little bit count.
At the local grocery store whenever the order is totaled, before the total comes up, a little message pops up asking if I would like to donate towards whatever cause or charity they are collecting for at the time. Sometimes it’s cancer research, sometimes it is to offer help for and feed the hungry; it varies. They always ask if I would like to make a donation before generating the final total on the order, and invariably I am always adding a few extra dollars to the total towards whatever cause they are supporting, regardless of what it is, without hesitating. Those few extra dollars I can save somewhere else don’t mean as much as knowing I gave at least a little something that might help someone. If I have to, I got through the groceries and put back any impulse purchases I might not really need but thought I did-through the power of good product placement and effective in store marketing-in order to make the amount. Whenever there is a person standing out front of a store asking for donations for a cause – whether or not we would agree personally on a theological level or not makes no difference – I always try to give a few extra dollars. And from time to time, when some of the LGBT organizations I belong to call fund raising, I try to give as much as I am capable of.
But I still have a desire to do more. People have asked me what I would do if I won the lottery (which is an impossibility as I don’t play, but it is a rhetorical question I am glad to answer) and I always respond that if that were to happen, or if I were to experience the blessing of some large and unexpected financial windfall, right after Uncle Sam took his share, God’s would come out as soon as I got it – expressed in the form of my giving as much as I could to all of the charities I wish I could contribute more to.
I do crunch the numbers, and I do what I can and sometimes a little more. And there has not ever been one occasion in my life when God Has failed to provide for all of my needs even when I gave financially beyond that which my means seemed to be at the time. It is one of those strange things; I never asked or required that something be given back to me. For that matter, I don’t even count charitable contributions on my tax returns, and I am one of those who writes off just about every business expense. (I’m not insinuating that there is anything wrong by doing so by any means, it’s just something I have never felt the need to do. I gave the money as a gift, not a loan and that’s how I want it to be.)
Yet somehow things have had a strange way of working out. No expectation on my part, but they just seem to happen unexpectedly. The $200 worth of groceries I gifted to someone who had no food money that month mysteriously showed up in an unexpected rebate check for a bill I had overpaid. After making a spur of the moment donation to a homeless shelter on a lean Thanksgiving, when we were going through tight financial times, less than a week later a job offer came in. Call it karma, call it sowing and reaping if you will, but similar occurrences have transpired a few too many times for me to chalk it up to mere coincidence (even if I believed in such a concept; I am one of those followers of the “everything for a reason” meme.)
However, all that being said, I still search the bank account and there are times where I feel I want to be able to give more, and sometimes there just is not a way to give something truly substantial on a monetary level. While I know it is as with any gift the thought that truly counts and the intent of a gift that matters and even when we give our last penny that our thought behind doing so and our desire to give is what matters most to God and is ultimately of the utmost spiritual benefit to the recipient and ourselves and spiritual well being, I find myself wanting to be able to give more; I feel as if it isn’t enough.
For those of us such as myself who find our desire to give financially exceeds our means at the present time, it does pay to remember that Jesus did illustrate beautifully in Mark 12 that it is truly our intention when giving that carries more meaning than our means and what we are capable of giving when he relates the widow giving all that she has while others contribute exorbitant amounts, and her contribution being the most profoundly meaningful and greatest of all.
Jesus does make a few other interesting references to tithing in His teachings. A rather interesting one is in Matthew 23:23-24, as part of His venting with frustration over the legalistic behavior of the Scribes and Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You stupid guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
Some harsh words from Jesus, indeed; His only harsh and critical words throughout the Gospels seem to be reserved for those who place religious legalism over love. He does so again in Luke 11:42, pointing out the error yet again:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds and neglect justice and the Love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”
And later in Luke 18:12, in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, He tells the story of the Pharisee praying and exalting himself above the tax collector. As the Pharisee arrogantly exalts himself to God in prayer as superior for following religious rituals and tithing a tenth of his income, the tax collector is humbled and honestly praying to God, feeling as if he is not worthy by comparison, and admitting that he does not do all of these things but still seeking God. Jesus calls the tax collector justified, and states that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
By no means am I inferring that Jesus is being critical of tithing in any way, shape or form, as He clearly points out the importance of doing so. He is merely stating that it is in error to allow our desire to follow whatever religious ritual is important to us individually – including tithing – to override the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbor first, The emphasis of all of these stories is very clear to me: while the concept of tithing and sharing the wealth that God blesses us with is imperative to our spiritual health, we should never neglect the most important teachings of treating all the rest of God’s children with love and respect as being of the utmost importance. In addition, we should never think that we may attempt to compensate for the times we have failed to be kind, caring, forgiving and loving by increasing the amount we give financially. What is in our hearts is the true measure of our generosity.
And what of the times when we might have the most honorable of intentions and a desire to contribute a share of our earnings, but we do not even have anything akin to the two small copper coins the widow had in Mark 12? In these challenging times, when so many are in a greater sense of need than ever and so many of us find that our resources to provide for others – let alone ourselves are in scarce supply and the well has run dry and the cupboard thin, sometimes it requires creativity to discern what precisely it is we would give. Fortunately, being a giving and generous soul does not – and should not always entail anything regarding money or finances.
God has blessed us all so much with limitless possibilities to be giving. Perhaps the most profound sense of giving can stem from using the gifts God blesses us with to help another in some way, or to pass on wisdom, hope and knowledge we have been blessed with to another in need of it. Sometimes we can give something worth more than any conceivable monetary value when we give of ourselves.
We can share the good gifts God gave us with others. We can offer our assistance, our help, whatever skill we have that might be able to help another. Often, this form of giving can be one of the highest and most meaningful of all. It has been, and remains to be for me. It comes both naturally and easily for me to desire to share the abundance God has blessed me with; I feel as if that is the highest way I can express my gratitude.
My journey of learning to give of myself and coming to the realization than being physically as opposed to spiritually wealthy was not a requirement to demonstrate generosity has been a very enlightening one indeed, a path that has led to my own spiritual growth in the process. Before I really acknowledged God or found a spiritual path through the teachings of Christ, I was always a person who had a desire to use what skills I had to help others, or wanted to help others in need just by listening, being their, or contributing my time.
But once I had the epiphany that led to my developing a deeper understanding of and Oneness with God, I began to see more of a focus in what it was I needed to do or to contribute. I was discovering my own faith and discerning what being a follower of Christ meant to me, and discovering that God loves me as I am and that there is no need to subscribe to dogmatic rigid beliefs or edit myself to be accepted. Soon after came the process I had been postponing for years – finally coming out and accepting myself as a bisexual man, accepting that there was nothing “wrong” or “unnatural” about my sexuality or sexual orientation, and ultimately coming to the realization and understanding that there was nothing wrong with having an open, honest and committed relationship with both a woman and a man and that the unique relationship with my female and male partners was not a sin but rather a blessing and a gift. I was filled with a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and most of all a deep sense of gratitude. I wanted to show my thanks for all of these things somehow, and what better way than to share that hope with others?
Simultaneously, I had joined and open and affirming church and was gradually letting go of a host of old fears, negativity, and bad habits which had restrained me from living to my full potential. I learned to develop creative impulses, musical abilities and other skills I had once believed I was incapable of. I began to get past panic and anxiety which had held me back, and a 16 year struggle with alcohol I was able to conquer by the Grace of God. And I was developing career skills I had neglected in years of self hatred, negativity, and self pity.
It was during this time that I had begun tithing to the church I was attending, and then continuing to do so at a new church after relocating. However, I soon found my abilities to do so hampered with the unexpected loss of employment. As is the case when we trust God and allow ourselves to be brought to a new and better path, sometimes we need to move on past jobs or places we might have outgrown spiritually or had allowed ourselves to remain in out of the false perception that we should not strive or aspire for better situations in our life. While it was a relief to be out of a negative and stressful work environment, it did leave me in a bit of a financial tight.
I was seeking other employment but during that time, I elected to ask around and see if there was some place I could put the skills I had to use, and spent time in between job interviews offering support for an organization ministering to those affected by HIV and AIDS. Even when I did find a job, I volunteered time at the church, helping out where I could and assisting with the church newsletter, singing in the choir. I both facilitated and then started my own support group for other bisexuals and bisexuals in committed relationships with multiple partners, and was able to share with those who had been made to feel to be “unacceptable” to God that there need be no conflict or contradiction between their spirituality and sexuality and that they did not have to be someone not true to who they are in order to be unconditionally loved by God or be a follower of Christ.
I would offer support to others online, and offline who were struggling with issues that God and others had helped me through when I would ask, seek and knock in times of doubt. We opened our home for a brief time for a homeless couple to stay in the spare room until they could get on their feet, and then later for a former co-worker undergoing tough times. I would build and program websites for friends who needed them, which led to work programming. I counseled with others who were struggling with the demon of alcohol abuse as I once had. I was living my sense of gratitude to God.
In all of those and many other cases, if there were times when I would want to contribute financially and found that the resources would prohibit my ability to do so, I would continually ask God, “How can I say thank You for all of the things You have done for me?” and I would be able to go within and find the answers in abundance. All of them somehow were related to the unique gifts or blessings in my life, or the unique individual God created me to be, and in the process, the blessings I experienced did nothing but multiply. Sometimes I would wonder what it was I could give or contribute, but whenever I would still my heart and listen, I would be able to hear the answers if I merely listened to my heart and that “still small Voice” that I know to be God speaking to me and follow my heart, and I obtained a true wealth of opportunities.
It was and still remains to be a sheer joy for me to do these things, and all of the times I have given of myself I have done so with no “ulterior motives” or expectations of any form of divine reward for doing so. Although I cannot count the times those blessings have multiplied and come back around tenfold, that was merely to me a joyful consequence. The reality was that I wanted to give the peace and joy God has given me back to someone else who needed it because it was something I did not want to keep to myself. It’s not about my needs; God has taken care of all of my needs already and continues to.
I sincerely feel that when God blesses us, it is not merely for us as an individual but for those whom God has called us to be angels to based on what our purpose in this life is, and what we were created for, which is more often than not the very reason I feel we are called to self awareness of who we are created to be. As I came to a sense of self awareness and peace about said awareness during my process of spiritual and personal growth, I longed for nothing more than the ability to share and pass that peace, that hope, and that sense of God’s unconditional love on to others. This truly epitomized the meaning of why we truly do receive in giving in my experience.
The critical point I want to emphasize from all of this is that giving does not always have to entail anything concerning matters financial. While I feel it is certainly beneficial to any of us on a personal level to contribute a portion of our earnings to those less in less fortunate circumstances than those we might currently find ourselves in, there are even more profound benefits on both a personal and spiritual level to giving of ourselves to those who find themselves in a spiritual, rather than a financial deficit.
And it does not have to entail anything that I might have done; everyone has a different path or calling. It need not be a task that requires a great deal of time and effort and no matter how little time one might be able to spare, every little thing, every kind gesture or passing on and sharing out of your “treasures in Heaven” or the abundance of love God has given you matters a great deal.
Giving of oneself to others can be demonstrated by something as seemingly insignificant as taking that extra few minutes out of a busy day to be there for someone who needs us and who has come to us in search of a kind word, someone to listen without judgment for a few minutes, or some other form of hope or support which might be eluding them. We are God’s appointed agents to be there for others, and to know I have helped someone feel peace or renewed their sense of hope or faith is a thousand times more meaningful to me than anything tangible or financial I could give them. And when we give love, and sow love, it just increases; there is never a deficit of Love when it is shared.
Through the years since I found myself filled with a true and sincere desire to express the gratitude for all that God has done for me through attempting to truly live that gratitude in giving of myself and sharing the wealth of blessings God gifted me with, I have always strived for a balance. While I feel that God calls us to pass on our spiritual wealth with others, I also know in my heart that I should be mindful to keep my own well being in mind as well so that I can effectively be there for others.
I can relate, as I am certain many of us can in the natural sense of joy God has built into us for being selflessly giving and I feel grateful that I was blessed with a natural tendency and desire to be giving. For as long as I have had money to spend on gifts for others during the holidays, my greatest joy at Christmas has not been opening gifts but giving them to others and the feeling of donating a portion of earnings to assist another also carries with it a sense of knowing I have given to another of God’s children. And beyond any material sense of giving, I am naturally a giver in the sense that when someone inquires to me about needing help or assistance, I have a difficult time saying “no”, at times to my own detriment. Even if our intentions are noble and we want to give our all when we seemingly cannot, just as financial resources might seem limited, another very valuable resource which we allow ourselves to be limited by, time, may seem to become lacking and in short supply.
I have come to this halting realization more than a few times when I found myself wanting to extend myself a shade farther than the time I possessed. Having three rather demanding jobs, two partners in a wonderful girl and a wonderful guy I both love very much in my life, friends and family who I want to spend time with, a slightly neurotic but very lovable cat who demands my attention, and a host of other commitments and responsibilities as well as things I need to do to care for myself, and the constant desire to want to give of myself to somehow help others in need, I found that I was a bit anxious about how and where I would find the time and resources to be able to maintain the commitment to being charitable I feel I am called to keep.
This was illustrated to me profoundly not too long ago when I was working on a project one of my three jobs. I had been at work for 12 hours and after coming home had just spent another three hours working on a file and suddenly went to save it online only to have my internet browser lock up and grind to a halt as it was timing out. It seemed as if the Internet Service Provider was having an outage. I had to save this page online before I was able to call it a night, and in a panic I called tech support and asked how long the outage would be only to be met with the statement that it would perhaps be another three hours. I temporarily suffered the illusion of lacking time; when would I find the time to sleep or take care of normal day to day life? I was already starting to feel ill and worn down from lack of rest. How could I care for others when I was out of time to take care of myself? I hung up the phone politely and then shouted “I, I just don’t have the time for anything to go wrong!”
Perhaps it was the way I said it, or the exasperated tone of my voice, or the sheer futility of my assuming that just because I was stressed that nothing was supposed to go wrong but I immediately laughed after I said it. And I began to think about my frustration with the balance of time resources and how I was going to manage the commitments I had made to help others and balance giving of myself with everything else? I knew in my heart that God wanted me to continue to give of myself, as I know from experience that anything which both brings me joy and helps others at the same time is one of the greatest Gifts we could ever hope to receive from God. Yet I was under duress as it seemed like there was just not enough time to give of myself as I desire and manage everything else.
I pondered a question: What should we do on those times when we are giving of ourselves rather than financially, but we feel we have overextended ourselves in our desire to help others, and are experiencing the illusion that the well is dry and we have nothing left to give?
I remain convinced that “scarcity,” “shortage,” or “lack,” are not words in God’s vocabulary. God is the Source of all and there will never be a lack of abundance of love or anything else if we just have faith, no matter how much things may seem to the contrary. I considered a passage in the Gospels that always assuages my concerns whenever I am worried about an imagined lack or not having enough of something. The story which I feel best represents and illustrates this point is the story of the loaves and fishes and Jesus feeding the five thousand:
“Going ashore, Jesus saw a great crowd, and had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish’. And He said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to Heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
-Matthew 14: 14-20
While some might interpret this as a literal story, as with most of the Gospels, there is a deep metaphor to this story as well. What I envision this to represent is the concept that regardless of how limited our resources may seem or how impossible a task at hand we may seem to be facing given whatever resources we seem to be lacking in order that we may accomplish said task, through faith and trusting in God to provide – even if that merely means helping us to discover and discern ways we might not have initially thought of to solve the challenge we are currently presented with, we can achieve great things and conquer seemingly insurmountable odds. God will always provide in abundance if we too do our part. All we have to do is ask of God with an open and humble heart to bless the situation, and if we open our hearts and minds, a solution will be presented to solve the problem we are facing, leaving us with an abundance where we feared we would be lacking.
In my instance, it was time I feared I would lack. As I was under stress about the ability to balance all of the things in my life and how I would find the ability to give my all with what seemed to be limited time, some answers came to me in prayer. I knew that all of my relationships and commitments to my loved ones – partners, family, pets, friends and those who counted on me for love and support were constants, and God would never ask me to sacrifice any of those. I also knew that God would not want me to make any decisions which would create a detriment to my own health and well being. Yet, I had to open up and create some balance somewhere.
It came to me that there was a way I could both help others and give to others by not taking on more than I would be able to handle. I considered some of the side work and other projects I had been taking on, and I recalled some conversations I had with others who had found themselves unemployed and in need of work. Instead of taking on more than I was capable of accomplishing, I called these friends and passed these opportunities on to them-a solution which not only freed up some of the things on my plate, but helped others in need. I acknowledged that I need not feel compelled to do it all and that as much as I want to express gratitude by being giving, I am not required to selfishly try to do it all and that sometimes I would need to find an equally workable solution. I realized that sometimes I would have to be willing to say no to a request for help and instead seek an alternative solution by asking someone to help me in my quest to help another, and that perhaps that was for the greater good as it offered an opportunity to another who desired to give of themselves or was in need.
I also was able to reevaluate, reconsider and rebalance other commitments so that it was possible to accomplish everything I had to do and still maintain my commitment to give of myself. I recognized the sheer pleasure in taking some time to replace something for personal satisfaction and replacing it with something in service to others was a greater source of happiness and fulfillment than what I might have originally had allotted for that time. In the instance of a time where I had an outing planned, I called up a friend who had been suffering from stress and depression and invited them along to go; they later thanked me for just being there and being a friend; in this way, I was both able to give to another and create the time to do something else I had planned. It drove home to me a belief I have always had: whenever we are doing something we enjoy and at the same time somehow helping another, it is one of the greatest examples of what we may desire to do and what God desires for us to do coincide.
When seeking spiritual guidance and reevaluating and discovering new and creative ways I could give of myself, suddenly I discovered there was more of an abundance of time and resources to do so than I had imagined. We merely need to go within and seek guidance, the ability to capitalize on resources, and to make the most effective use of our individual gifts. And I realized that God renders it possible to give of ourselves without having to take on more than we are able. Sometimes merely taking five or ten minutes to talk to someone, or to fix something for someone, or to help someone in a seemingly minor fashion to us might suffice. I came to understand that no matter how little I found myself being able to offer, the very thought and intent was what truly matters and there was no need to beat myself up or bemoan a deficit of time. The idea that I did not have enough time or resources to give was but an illusion, and the reality was I had an abundance. It was merely a matter of my ability to seek for the best possible way to be generous and believe that the means would present themselves.
Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 that in our being generous that balance is necessary, and that our desire to give is what is far more important than what abilities or means we may or may not have to do so:
“For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Although in this instance he mostly seems to be referring to material types of giving, the exact same rationale can apply to giving of ourselves. It is a balancing act, and one which is not impossible with faith. When we take inventory of all of the blessings in our life, put our heart in the right place and adopt and develop a sincere desire to give all that we can from that, things can mysteriously work out where we come to the understanding that no matter where we seem to be lacking, we always possess some way, some resources which will allow us to be giving and that even if it seems as if we are lacking, nothing can prohibit us from having something to share with others.
Even if we are only taking a few moments to share our faith, the Love God has shown us with others by sharing the Good News that they are Loved Unconditionally and showing them selfless kindness, or sharing knowledge God has blessed us with those who are seeking hope and encouragement then we are giving a far greater gift than anything material could ever begin to provide.
Regardless of how seemingly insignificant and inadequate of what we feel it is we have to offer, it can equate to a world of difference in the life of another. I learned this lesson profoundly when I considered the question long ago on what gifts it was I had to give of myself to others.
As a bisexual and especially one in a committed relationship with both a female and a male partner and a host of radically liberal views and spiritual beliefs to the norm, I am often (as are many other of my less unorthodox LGBT or heterosexual and open minded brothers and sisters) not taken seriously as a Christian, a follower of Christ or a child of God – and some might accuse me of having little to nothing in the way of spiritual gifts to share with others. Yet on so many numerous occasions, I have had others tell me that just by living my life and unashamedly and openly discussing my faith has meant a great deal to them and offered them hope when they felt that there was no hope to be had; they then offered this hope to others who felt in need of it. Is that always a road with no challenges? Quite the contrary. But merely knowing that in being true to myself and my faith and taking the time to communicate with others about my faith, my journey, and all God has done for me has helped someone somehow means more to me than anything and gives me a feeling of being closer to God than anything ever has.
I think it is very relevant to share one more of my favorite passages in the New Testament regarding generosity. 2 Corinthians 9 is to me is as excellent of a description of the virtues of being giving as 1 Corinthians 13 is a description of the value of Love. While the entire passage is a recommended read on the topic of giving, in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, Paul offers these pearls of wisdom:
“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.”
What does it mean to be a “cheerful giver”? The answer is not universal, and will be slightly varied for everyone. I can only state what it is for me, in my experience, regardless of whether or not I am giving of myself or from my earnings, giving something material or something non-tangible, or giving a little or a lot.
This mysterious and wonderful experience of being that God has given us is filled with both good times and not as enjoyable. What I know as life is a wonderful experience and a journey that balances both. While I always feel grateful, I have these profound moments of clarity amidst the joyful and stressful times where I am washed in a flood of sheer gratitude for all of the good, the wonderful blessings, the Grace that God has poured into my life, both those things I have hoped and longed for and those things which so many of us can often take for granted. I feel thankful for the ability to be having a good day even on the bad ones when I recall all that God has done for me and others. And it is on these occasions when my heart is filled with that very sincere, honest, focused prayer with one singular purpose I continue to repeat after all this time: “How can I thank You?” I feel the sentiment of Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift!” filling my soul and all I desire to do is to live my gratitude by not only practicing the Golden Rule of expressing my love for God by loving my neighbor as myself, but by giving to others, not merely in a material sense but sharing out of the abundance of the “treasures in Heaven,” the spiritual wealth that God has blessed me with, for that to me is where there is never a lack of abundance to give from. I want to express to all of those who might feel unloved or unaccepted by God that they are in fact accepted and fully worthy of all of the blessings God has to offer. I want to plant seeds of hope within them in what I can share, and make them aware that they too have a special purpose, meaning and reason to their life that God will enable them to discover and that following the spiritual teachings of Christ and listening to the Spirit within will illuminate for them as it did for me. And I want to know in my heart that what it is that I have to share will somehow provide a gift to someone else in need and bring them the same sense of hope, peace and oneness with God that I have felt and which has brought so much enrichment and fulfillment into my life. I do not desire to keep it all for myself, I feel a deep yearning to pass it on to another, to allow God’s blessings and love to flow through me to those who need it. God continues to provide for me, and for all of us, and if we continue to pass God’s love on, our awareness just grows stronger and remains in never ending abundance.
That, to me, makes being giving nothing more than a joy: the ability to truly live the gratitude I feel by giving what God has given me to others. Even in the most trying times financially or struggling to fit everything into our human constructs of time which God cannot be limited by, we can always look within to the storehouse of spiritual wealth available to and attainable by us all regardless of who we are or our social status, and give a gift to others surpassing anything we could even begin to offer materially.
As we approach the observation of Thanksgiving, a day many set aside to reflect on gratitude, take a few moments to cherish all of the blessings you have to be thankful for. Consider the ways in which you can express your gratitude for all that God has done for you through actions rather than mere financial donations or words. God is a graciously giving God, and Christ illustrates numerous times in His teachings that we need not ever be concerned with God providing for us. In emulating that giving nature, we can become closer in our walk with God and feel the joy that comes with giving. For in being giving to others, we are giving to God, for God is in and a part all of us as we are of God.
If we neglect to be giving, and instead are selfish and not giving, it is not God Who punishes us or besets us with the consequences of a life lived this way; it is we who punish ourselves in doing so by denying ourselves the joy that can come from knowing we have shared our blessings with others: doing the right and good thing and the kind thing is always its own reward. And lest we be concerned that we do not possess the available resources, we can remain confident that God will always provide; there is no lack of abundance in God. Not only will God provide for us, but for others as well; wherever we may perceive obstacles to being giving, God will help us find a way, if we maintain faith and realize there is never a lack of abundance if we believe. There will always be more than enough if we ask, seek and knock and allow God to speak to us and guide us to utilize the unique and individual gifts we are given for the highest good of all.
Generosity does not require material wealth; it is entirely possible for the penniless to be a good steward. It doesn’t matter what the nature our gift is, or how much we give but the intent with which we offer and present it. If we offer up all that we can, regardless of how woefully inadequate we might imagine our individual contribution to be under these circumstances, we have more than given our share. Whatever gift we have to offer as an offering, however miniscule we might perceive it to be is often more important to another than we could ever surmise to imagine.
Although being giving is its own reward and only serves to enrich and nourish us spiritually, the majority of the time there are wonderful and unexpected blessings that come along as what we give has a way of coming back around to us. I often think of how I purchased those framed prayers and at the same time gave to those in need, and in how doing so I received a gift that has provided some of my spiritual “daily bread” as I see them every day. Although a reward was not my intent, God has a strange, mysterious and wonderful way of bringing even more blessings and Grace than usual into our lives as we give and there is something to be said for the concept that as we reap we sow, and blessings will return to us tenfold whenever we give of ourselves. I can’t explain it, or why it happens. It just does.
Fear not if you feel as if you have nothing to give, even if your desire exceeds what resources you seem to have available, for it is the desire that matters most. We all have something we can contribute, even if we fear that we cannot in the ability God has given us to give of ourselves – even if that merely means sharing the love God shows us with them. Share with someone in need about a time when you have felt closest to God. Share of how you felt when you knew God loves you as you are, regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality, the way you understand the Bible, or any other factor that once made you feel distant from God and the moment you knew you were of equal value to God as anyone else, regardless of what anyone may have led you to believe in the pass. Pass the sense of peace that came from those blessed feelings of reconciliation on to another who needs it; share your thanks for “God’s indescribable gift” of love and acceptance. These are to me the greatest expression of giving we can provide, and if we continue to grow spiritually and strengthen the foundations of our faith, those resources can never be exhausted.
Being able to share from our spiritual wealth and living our gratitude through our actions is to me the highest expression of gratitude we can give to God, who has given so much to all of us, whether we feel deserving or not. And even if that gift may not seem like a lot, or of value – remember that every little bit matters and can make a world of difference, just as each of us as individuals with our own unique purpose do in the majesty and beautiful and vast diversity of God’s creation.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.