What We Get Wrong When it Comes to Giving
To get in the spirit while reading, click the image below to access the Christmas Playlist YOU helped me create. I included all suggestions given to me, except any that weren't on Spotify and I must say, it's pretty great—I haven't stopped listening! Guess we make a good team. 😉
Having just tucked my wallet into the purse sitting on my passenger seat, I turned back toward the pump pouring fuel into my car and there he was a few feet back—a man in his mid-thirties, dressed in jeans and a crisp collared shirt. I jumped—he’d startled me.
“I’m sorry, miss. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he started.
I caught my breath and forced a smile, waiting for him to finish.
“My family and I are on a road trip up north, and we’ve run out of gas,” he continued, McDonald’s Big Gulp in hand. “My wife and little kids are in the car down the street, and I walked up here to get gas but I don’t have enough money. Can you help us out?”
Immediately, I felt skeptical. Based on his apparel, he didn’t look like he needed help. And why would a family with young children set out on a long drive if they knew they didn’t have the funds to finish it? Maybe it was the way he approached me that already had me uneasy, but I feared I was somehow being scammed. I didn’t want to help him if he wasn’t being honest, and the money was simply going to be pocketed or used for something less than helpful.
On the other hand…what if he was being genuine? I didn’t know his circumstances, or what may have found him stranded in San Ramon with his young family and an empty tank.
Still, my humanness—that insecure part of me that feared feeling played and used, or made to look like a fool—it fizzed within me. I detested the thought of being taken advantage of, and cheated.
As this internal dialogue worked itself out in me, I thought about God’s call glittered throughout Scripture to be generous, and to give to those in need. I also thought about what I was doing when I stopped for gas. Having recently received a yearly bonus at work, I was en route to spend a portion of it on a few splurge items, a clear indication that while far from wealthy and still paying off student loans, God’s provision for me had extended plenteously beyond “need.”
In that moment it occurred to me that whether or not the man before me was being honest didn’t actually matter—at least, not beyond me. All that truly mattered in that moment, or in any moment for that matter, was my obedience to God and His nudging toward the opportunities He put in my path.
What I mean is this—it’s all too easy to make excuses for why I shouldn’t embody the person God calls me to be.
When the homeless man on the street corner sits begging for change, I tell myself that if I don’t have food or gift cards to food places on me, I should smile, say “God bless,” and keep walking. I shouldn’t give him money, because he might spend it on drugs or alcohol.
What’s more, if you’re anything like me, making excuses for why you don’t have to be the giver God calls you to be is easy to do in many areas beyond simply monetary giving. We tell ourselves that we don’t have to do this because the other person didn’t do that, and that if the response of the receiver is incorrect, we’re freed from the responsibility to give.
When others start gossiping about the person who’s repeatedly left us feeling rejected, rather than giving grace in the way we handle the situation, we tell ourselves it’s okay to ask questions and encourage them to keep talking, or even participate, because clearly we’re validated in feeling this person is in the wrong.
When we have an idea to go above and beyond to do something nice for someone, we talk ourselves out of it by reminding ourselves of all the times they didn’t notice or appreciate it when we did so in the past.
What I’m getting at is this—when it comes to generosity, God calls us to be obedient to Him, He doesn’t call us to control the outcome of that generosity.
Maybe the man at the gas station took the $25 gas card I bought him and laughed himself all the way back to his Lamborghini where his friends were all waiting (dramatic, but you get the point). Or maybe, he filled up his car, and he and his family were able to finish their road trip. Either way, I know what side of the equation I’d rather err on. The point is, if my goal was simply to be obedient to God in being His hands and feet, then this man’s actions after receiving my gift were not the point.
I’m not saying that if we don’t give every single time we see a need, we’re being disobedient, and I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t seek to be smart in doing so. After all, scams do exist, and some people do take the money, then take a hit. What I’m saying to myself, and inviting you to also consider, is perhaps we should examine our motivations when we decide not to give.
Do we refrain from giving of our resources for thought-out reasons, or are our reasons simply masterfully disguised excuses?
Do we refrain from lifting others up, motivated by fear of scarcity—believing that if they succeed, we don’t?
Maybe sometimes we’ll give thoughtfulness, and it will go unappreciated. Maybe sometimes we’ll give kindness, and the other person we give to will continue to treat us poorly. Maybe sometimes we’ll give forgiveness, and the other person’s actions won’t change. Maybe sometimes we’ll give money, and a stranger will laugh his way back to a Lamborghini.
The point is, our giving shouldn’t be based on whether or not someone deserves it, or on what that person might do with our generosity. Our giving should be based on God’s call, and we should give regardless of the receiver’s response.
A few weeks ago at my church’s youth group, which I volunteer in, the high school pastor shared an interesting story. He said there was a study done once where a bunch of kids were given teddy bears. Half the kids weren’t told who the teddy bear was from, and the other half were. Results of the study ended up showing that kids who knew who their gift was from expressed more gratitude than those who didn’t. This wasn’t in the study, but I tend to think that gratitude is connected with generosity—that when we know what we’ve been given, we’re more apt to give.
May we recognize the many gifts in our lives, know Who their Giver is, and may we cultivate gratitude that frees us to generously give.
For a few practical ideas, check out my Giving Guide below, and feel free to pin, share, screenshot, whatever. Use these ideas on those who “deserve it,” and those who “don’t;” when you feel like it, and when you don’t. Let’s start a ripple effect of kindness and love, as these are two things our world could certainly use more of. I’ve got my eye on doing a few of these this week—be sure to tell me in the comments which ones you plan to try!
In case you missed it, I'm partnering with She Is Captivating by Amanda Marie to do a giveaway on Instagram! Winner will receive a $10 Starbucks gift card, a hand-crafted mug from Amanda Marie's Etsy shop (by the way, 10% of all her proceeds go to A21 to help fund the fight against human trafficking, how amazing is that?) and TWO journaling Bibles from Kristin Schmucker's The Daily Grace Co. In the spirit of giving, one Bible is for the winner to keep, and the other is to give away. UPDATE: Giveaway closed—click the image below to see the winner!