Encouragements to be generous can awake feelings of exhaustion. ‘I am giving all I can at the moment. I can’t afford more.’ This is not just about money: our time, energy and enthusiasm can become overdrawn.
I wonder if we have got ‘generosity’ all wrong. We tend to see it as a one way movement of giving: a gradual emptying of the bank. But in the natural world generosity is always two-way: a flow not just of giving but of receiving.
September is a good time to ponder generosity. Take a walk along a hedgerow and be amazed by the bounty there: blackberries, rosehips, sloes, damsons, blackberries, cobnuts...the list goes on. Wander into a park or a garden and see the last flowers of summer blaze out in the richest of colours as they prepare to set seed for another spring-time. All that is created seems to be pouring out its name. Fruit is abundant and free, and bee, bird and beast receive the gift of it. Yet this giving begins in receiving. The tree sinks roots into soil nurtured by the leaf fall of years that are past. The flowers and fruits of garden and the hedgerow need the blessing of the sun, rain and bee before they can grow into their fullness and share out their life. The generosity of early autumn is of giving and receiving: a flow of life from, but also, to.
When generosity is one-way it quickly becomes draining. Our giving may be moved by care for the other but it can also be the result of our need to be liked or our inability to say ‘no’. We may also be deeply resistant to receiving from others, having cast ourselves in the role of provider, or carer, or saviour. Perhaps the one person we struggle to be generous with is ourself, believing that anything we do receive must first be paid for. We share out our possessions with those around us, looking to buy a little sense of worth, and leave ourselves as the neglected beggar by the roadside. What looks like generosity is in reality driven and unfree.
There are times when our commitment to others asks more of us than we can comfortably share. What would we not do for our child or our elderly parent if they needed our help? The causes and the work we give ourselves too do not measure themselves out evenly; there are days when there is more to do than time or energy to do it. But if life is always this lopsided we might begin to question whether our giving is more driven than free. Generosity is chosen. If we begin to feel resentful for the demands placed on us it’s time to make a fresh choice: to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but to do so consciously and freely.
And what of God? Does God demand one-way giving: ‘you must share, forgive, offer what you have, and go on doing so if you are to have a place with me’? Christianity can often be taught or experienced that way. However, the life of God is a continual flow of giving and receiving. This is what we understand by God as Trinity: a mutual sharing of life and love that overflows creatively and abundantly. Generosity begins by opening ourselves to receive from God, just as the tree opens itself to the blessing of the sun, rain, soil and bee. We are loved, valued, forgiven and provided for without meanness or measuring. Nothing can be done to earn it; the gift is free. And the more you become yourself through God’s abundance of giving, the more you want to let your own abundance flow from you, as a river does without ever running dry.
Be generous with yourself today. Give yourself some time and attention.
Do something that feeds and refreshes your inner spirit.
Don’t be mean in your measuring.
It may go against your grain, but it will also go with the flow of bee, bird, flower, tree and Trinity.
Let something of who you are flow out, unforced and free. This too is Trinity.
Generosity doesn't have to be exhausting.
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