A little over a month ago I went to visit a friend in an area of the country I used to live in. I seized a few free minutes to walk around a neighborhood I used to enjoy when I lived near by. Not much has changed since my time there. During my walk, I stopped at a local business run by a friend of mine; business has been slow for him. He was so happy to have someone stop by and to talk. He gave me a free soda. I enjoyed the cherry coke, but I can’t say that I gladly accepted this gift. The whole time we were talking and shaking our heads at the current economic landscape, I was fighting to put theory into practice. Internally, I fought to put my beliefs about generosity into practice. I see an expression of generosity as a way to acknowledge someone’s value: the giver is saying, “You matter to me.” However, generosity can be an expression of mutually valuing, if the person receiving the gift receives it in humility. By accepting the gift humbly, they say, “I need you, I need your love.” In this way, both giver and receiver acknowledge each other’s value.
The practice of generosity requires one essential component: there is a giver and a receiver, and often these roles switch back and forth like the oceans’ tide. The internal struggle is over the gifts (of soda and conversation). Do I gladly and unconditionally accept them OR do I leave money to pay for both? My pride looked for a creative way to leave money—for the sake of making me feel good about myself. If I leave money how much do I leave? After all, I would be placing a price on a conversation with a friend. My pride would have a lingering cost: the insult of telling my friend that I am above receiving his demonstration of generosity. The other part of me, which some call humility, realized that accepting a gift from someone that struggles to pay all of his expenses moves me towards acknowledging his value. In receiving his gift, I convey, “Our relationship is mutual. I have something to receive from you.” I believe that humbly receiving from another person also tells them of their inherent worth as a child of God.
Looking back, I realize that if I had given into my pride, there would be a lingering cost— a cost of my friendship and the genuineness of how we treat each other. After all, giving into my pride would carry with it the message of difference in our value to each other and God. A step in this direction could put me on a slippery slope that reinforces pride as my default behavior. Such default behavior reinforces societal understandings of power, haves and has nots, and the worth that we attach to those categories. I am in a state of brokenness because of pride. If I give into pride any steps of progress towards doing good, doing no harm and staying in love with God becoming my default behavior would be washed away. I do not want a gold star for outdoing an act of generosity that flows out of a humble heart. The Lord loves a cheerful giver not someone in a generosity contest – generosity is not a contest when living out the teachings of Jesus. Receiving a gift from someone else is an act of humility, which acknowledges that each of us, regardless of how society labels us, has something to offer. By possessing an attitude of humility and willingness to receive we put into action the work of tearing down barriers that separate us and building neighborhoods of people that value each other.
I know that I have much room for improvement in living my life as someone that values people. This is part of the journey of living for Christ instead of myself. My desire is not to erase the bit of progress I’ve made in this area but to keep at it. Blessed assurance the grace of God will redeem my mistakes, which hurt someone’s sense of value while giving me the strength to persevere.
“But charity is only as warm as those who administer it.” – Dorothy Day