The Pain and Ease of Generosity

 

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My heart broke just a little bit today.

My sweet Austin was invited to a birthday party at Wonderlab for one of his classmates. This particular boy shared with Austin one time that his mom was unable to take care of him, so he lives with a new family. Austin has a great deal of compassion for him. He insisted on getting a Lego set for the present, because he knows this boy loves Legos. He wanted to spend a little more than I would normally care to spend, so I asked if he would be willing to contribute some of his own money. He heartily agreed. His priority was to get his friend exactly what he knew he would enjoy.

To top it off, after signing the card, he asked if he could put an extra dollar from his wallet in the card. He eagerly stuck it in, slid the card in the envelope, and sealed it shut.

As he was putting on his shoes he proclaimed, “Mom, it feels good to be generous to my friends.”

At that point my heart swelled to nearly bursting. We talk about generosity a lot in our house and it’s comforting to know our boys are absorbing some of that.

My story takes a sad spiral downward, however. I dropped Austin off at his party and as he handed his present to his friend, I realized the card was gone. Retracing our steps didn’t recover it. I have no idea where it could have gone. The card had even been taped to the package. Austin was so disappointed. When I picked him up I gave him another dollar to pass along to his friend, but it just wasn’t the same.

This year, my chosen word to guide my year is generous. I started focusing on it about the middle of December, and I am already learning so many lessons.

First of all, regular generosity is easier than I thought. Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of making some tasks in life out to be harder than they actually are. Being generous can be as simple as passing on something you already have that someone can use more. Yesterday, I took some dress up costumes my boys had outgrown to some ladies in the mama’s group I work with. Knowing their kids will get enjoyment out of them makes me feel great. Or, like Austin, just be intentional with your giving. When someone takes notice of my likes and dislikes, it means a lot. Passing on clothing or toys to our local Crisis Pregnancy Center is another way I’ve found to share with those in need and with those who will greatly appreciate the gesture.

Making others happy.

                                      A friend’s son enjoying his “new” costume.

Secondly, generosity doesn’t always turn out like you had hoped. Like Austin, you might find yourself anxious to give something only to meet with an obstacle you didn’t expect. One time we tried to gift a clerk at Walmart with a candy bar just because, and he informed us company policy didn’t allow him to accept it. Major bummer! Random acts of kindness can indeed be foiled. Another time my husband bought food at a McDonald’s for a man asking for money outside, only to later see him toss the breakfast sandwich, uneaten, in the trash.

The third lesson I have learned is to be generous anyway. Generosity may not always be so much about what we do for the other person, as what it does for our character and shaping our hearts. This makes me think of the Martina McBride song, Anyway: “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good, and when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should. But I do it anyway … I do it anyway.” The return usually trumps the risk.

Finally, generosity is tricky. Both yesterday and today I have been approached by men who look down and out asking for bus money “for a friend.” One reeked of cigarettes and the other of alcohol. My heart didn’t feel very generous in that moment, knowing the money was likely not going to be used for the said purpose. I passed on those opportunities. My money can be used to help the homeless in more constructive ways. I think there is a wisdom that needs to come alongside generosity.

How have you found it easiest to be the most generous? What kind of generosity has cost you something? I’d love to hear your stories!

“Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won’t have to hunt for happiness.” ~William Gladstone~

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