For it is in giving that we receive.
― Francis of Assisi
Most of the time I feel like a pillar of salt. I often regret choices I’ve made, looking back, second-guessing my decision. It usually has to do with picking out something, or committing to one item or another. Rarely is it about actions and commitment to action. It never happens to me when it comes to giving something away, wishing I hadn’t. There is something that comes along with giving of time, things and money. It’s a sort of freedom, a reality-check, course correction. It feels like a breath of fresh air and a burden lifted from the baggage I carry with me everyday.
I think that’s in part of Francis was getting at. It’s the paradoxical mystery that Jesus names in his teachings. He models it in his life. It’s in dying that he lives abundantly (or eternally). Buddhism seems to approach this from the angle of detachment. It’s when we are unattached, letting things, people, situations go that we realize our freedom, discovering who we really are. That’s really not different than what Jesus is saying. It’s a stark contrast to our society today in which we are fed an implicit metanarrative (or big cultural story) that there isn’t enough to go around – money, time, food, resources, freedom. It’s the myth of scarcity that seems to motivate us by fear and self-interest, as well as ensure high prices for things. But the reality is that we live in abundance. God provides everything. God provides even what we don’t know we need, or can’t yet imagine. It’s that providence that lies at the root of joy known in Christ’s death and new life, a contagion of joy that shapes our hope, directs our actions and calls us “home”.
Advent and Christmas are the times I find that I’m most busy as a pastor. Yes, there are more services and decorations to manage. There’s a Thanksgiving Meal to facilitate and then clean-up. Yet what I’m perceiving as really tiring is the need that surges during this season. We all need more time to do more things. More calls come to the church for help with finances or resources. Money is often short, or seemingly getting scarcer, as the end of the fiscal year approaches. There seems to be less volunteer help as everyone is maxed out with all that there is to do, all the events to attend, the extra duties to complete. Curiously in the middle of a season of giving and generosity, it is so easy to circle the wagons of my energy and interest, focus on what I need to do, or what I don’t want to do. That sensation of scarcity is far from a feeling of security. The less I give, or more concretely the less I feel like giving, the more constrained I feel with my time, the less free I feel with my energy and the more quickly I’m irritated by unplanned events.
Christmas is a time of giving and turning toward others. Ironically we prepare for it by creating longs lists of “I have to…” and “I need to….” Of course that’s what we have to do to prepare: clean, shop, decorate, invite, cook, wrap…. Advent subverts that one dimensional preparation. The anticipation of the great birth at Christmas invites us to be on the lookout for how it is being announced and heralded even today in our world. It’s a turning outward to look, listen, glean and hopefully jump in. In the last two days I’ve struggled with the time and energy I’ve had to give to other things: a night out teaching ESL, some challenging visits for which I anticipated the outcomes, a burst spigot at home, unfinished to-dos tied over from past events. They’ve been reasons for my interior grumbling. Yet when I sit here and look back most of the positive energy and redemptive encouragement I’ve known in the last 48 hours came from these very situations. It’s feelings and energy I couldn’t have procured by my own forces. They could only be known as a gift: a sense of peace, clarity of mind, deep wave of gratitude, some relational encounters. My own experience points me back to the truth of the saying that it’s “in giving that we receive.”
Practice today – or during this week – a giving away of things. Detachment. Give away something you no longer need or use. How many shirts are in your drawer that you don’t wear on a regular basis? Share your time with someone else – a family member, neighbor, partner in a project. Don’t martyr yourself to save the world, but don’t count the minutes either. Or give money. Now is the time when most non-profits are asking for much need year end gifts (I know that the church I serve needs them!). Instead of buying a coffee, going out for lunch, or buying flowers …. gift that money by giving it away.
QUESTIONS FOR PONDERING:
- How did your action of giving impact you?
- How did it shape your relationships?
- From it what did you realize about the amount of time you have to do what you need?
- How did it impact your finances?
- Did it make or break you?
- How did your gifting of something (re)kindle in you a sense of joy?
- How did it impact the way in which you see the world, see the world as in this push and pull, a tension of looking for what God will do to make all things one – and make all things new?