For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as generous. I believed I gave of my time and my resources freely and cheerfully, but now, I’m not so sure. I’ve been thinking about what it means to give, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a rare moment indeed when a gift is given and, at it’s root, the giver truly expects nothing in return. That is how God gives to us, and we, knowing in our spirits that it is right to imitate God’s nature whenever possible, try our best to mimic this kind of giving. It is a noble pursuit, but I’m wondering if it is humanly possible.
I confess, when I give the gift of extensive undivided attention to my daughter, I give it because I know it is the one thing that makes her feel loved by me more than anything else, and because it makes her feel happy and secure. That is the part of the gift that is God-like. If I’m honest though, there’s a piece of that gift that is selfish. I also give it so that I can feel better about myself as a mother and feel better about the times I am not “present” when we are together, and to “buy” time for myself later on. I also give her this gift because seeing her happy makes me happy. The gift is good, no question – and it’s better that I give it than withhold it simply because it is stained with a hint of selfishness.
Another tainted gift I give is volunteerism, the most noble of gifts. There is a large element of this gift that is honorable and pure. I volunteer my time and talents at church, at other non-profits and at our public schools. It is a rewarding and a valuable use of my time. I do it because I genuinely care about the needs of others and I believe strongly in the power of community to effect positive change. But sadly, if I reduce this gift down until I’m at it’s very core, I’m afraid I discover once again that there’s a piece of this gift that is meant for me. Perhaps it is my desire to be well thought of by others, or my desire to feel good about myself, or just a need to feel valuable, but even this noble gift has a hint of selfishness to it.
And the list goes on. I give the perfect birthday gift, one I’m excited about giving because I know the recipient will be thrilled, but also impressed by my intuition and ultimately I get back the affirmation that I crave. I give financially to charities I believe in – and it comes close to purity, but even then I find myself thinking of the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The thing is, this statement is totally true – the more you give – the more you receive. I just wish I could keep that motive out of my thinking when I’m engaged in the act of giving.
Just as I was beginning to wonder if it is humanly possible to give expecting nothing in return, The Old Prophet (my dad) shared a story. He was visiting with a friend the other day and noticed her lawn needed to be mowed so he decided to mow it – period. I could tell by the way he shared the story that he wanted nothing in return. The woman, of course, offered to help him with his mending (how sweet is that?). That is what we do when someone does a kindness for us; we have a desire to repay it in some way. It’s just the right thing to do. But that is not why the Old Prophet mowed her lawn. He did it because it needed to be done, and he had the ability to do it. I can’t say with one-hundred percent certainty that this was an absolutely pure gift, but I think it comes as close as anything I know of. That gives me hope for my own gift giving.
Clearly, there are exceptional people sprinkled throughout the history of our planet who seem to be divinely able to give with purely self-less motives. But they are very few and far between. But imagine how freeing it would be to possess the ability to consistently give generously and purely. It is not something that can be accomplished by force of will. It is a lifestyle of intentional surrender of our minds to the mind of Christ. It is a way of life worth pursuing. I hope I have the capacity to achieve it. I think it will take at least a lifetime.