By Liz Manning
We can afford to be generous now. We no longer have to clutch anything to ourselves to save it for the rainy day. We now know there is enough to go around – enough money, enough good, enough love – because we now act out of our sufficiency, not our lack.
In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer reminds us that, “The true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around. Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them – and receive them from others when we are in need.”
Generosity, it seems, starts with compassion.
The Good Samaritan, who has no standing in the community and who is despised by the “righteous,” dares to give his money, his time, and his personal care to a stranger in need.
O. Henry’s poor young couple in The Gift of the Magi have no money for Christmas, but they each sell their most prized possessions to purchase gifts for the other. She cuts off her long hair to buy her husband a chain for a pocket watch that is endeared to him at the same time he is pawning the watch to buy a comb for his wife’s beautiful hair.
There are world-wide and community-wide suggestions calling us to interact generously. Pope Francis says we can be generous in little things as well as big things, i.e., giving the poor half of our shoes and clothing as well as money for food. Mother Teresa reminds us not to worry about feeding the multitudes but to start with feeding the person nearest to you.
My grandchildren’s definition of generosity finds expression in how we live. One teenager says, “Generosity is when you go out of your way to give time or money and intentionally make someone’s life better.”
Another says, “Generosity is doing something you don’t have to do, but you do it anyway. Like when someone breaks your trust, you trust them anyway, even when you don’t have to.”
Beyond money, treasure, or even possessions, generosity can be the gift of time. In our elder years, when compassion taps us on the shoulder and we respond, it may be giving our time to listen with open hearts, allowing each person to be who he or she is and surrounded by our acceptance.
When I think of those who have been generous with me, I am reminded of being in the hospital with a heart “event,” and a friend staying with me all night until family could arrive: a gift of time. Daily my husband of 55 years smiles at our drastically different feelings about important issues, showing his love with the generosity of an open heart and acceptance of our differences.
Compassion comes first. Then we respond in generosity–happily, sometimes outrageously.
“You have been faithful in small things; I will put you in charge of bigger things,” Jesus told the wise servants in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30.). So it is with generosity: practicing small acts leads to greater generosity.
Start where you live, where you drive, where you shop. Give over your place in line to the young mother with a crying baby; let that driver get in front of you in traffic; give the check-out clerk your full attention instead of talking on your cell phone as you pay the bill. Especially if you are rushed for time, give some of it away.
Then see what else you can give away today. Like smiles. And compliments. And kind words.