Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spontaneous Generosity

The other day I was at Costco with my parents. We had just loaded our purchases into the car and were about to back out of the parking lot when a man tentatively approached my dad's window. He got my dad's attention and dad rolled down the window to find out what he wanted. The man asked if we or anyone we knew could use some work done around their house. Since my parents live in a small townhouse and we rent a house and have two able-bodied teenagers to help out, neither of us needed any help at that point in time and politely informed this man of that. He accepted this news and told how he had been looking for work for some time and had tried to get hired at Costco, but they were not hiring. He then asked my dad if he could spare any money for something to eat. 

At this point my father surprised me a bit by opening his wallet and handing the man some money. I don't know how much because I didn't watch that closely. I didn't really need to know. His response pleasantly surprised me because for most of his life my dad has been a spendthrift. Especially when I was living at home as a teenager my impression of my father was that he wouldn't spend anything he didn't have to. He's still quite frugal, but has definitely relaxed as he has gotten older (though perhaps my mother would disagree with that!) But I cannot recall ever seeing him give money to a total stranger in a parking lot. 

I was proud of my dad at that moment. And ashamed of myself. Because I sat in the passenger's seat next to my dad and did nothing. It seemed reasonable at the time. Maybe it was reasonable. After all the man was addressing my father primarily. But I certainly didn't rush to open my wallet and share what I had.

I'm trying to practice spontaneous generosity more consistently. I confess that I have inherited my father's frugality. In addition, we live on a very tight budget. Some months we're not sure whether we will have enough to pay the bills. So I can justify to myself that we need the money for ourselves. But when I'm honest with myself I recognize and admit that, while not overflowing with money, we are not hurting. We have food on the table regularly. We have a roof over our heads. And should things get really bad we have family and friends who would step in to keep us afloat. I can afford to be generous. In fact, even if none of that were true of my situation, I can afford to be generous. I just have to choose to be.

I am guilty, as I imagine many others are, of justifying my stinginess when it comes to people asking me for money on the street. I know the arguments: that they're just going to use it on alcohol, that it doesn't really help the situation, that there are better ways to help. Yes, there are better ways to help overall. And yes, they may in fact use my gift on something other than what I would prefer. But I don't know that and when I prejudge them based on appearances or my own prejudices, I sin. And I miss out on an opportunity to be the hands of Jesus. Because I don't think Jesus would question their motives. I don't think he'd wonder whether he had enough in his wallet. I think he'd give what he could because he responded to human need without judging or condemning. But I'm more comfortable withholding my couple bucks and justifying my actions by my superior knowledge of “what's good for them.”

I've never been so poor, so desperate, that I needed to beg money for food. I can't imagine how it feels.

I'm trying to actively respond with generosity when the opportunity arises. I didn't that day at Costco, but thankfully my father did. I'm also thankful that my son was with us and I hope he noticed my dad's behavior. I didn't try to make an object lesson of it. I just hope he noticed. And I hope he notices when I respond the same way—not for my own glory or praise in my son's eyes, but so that he will see the example and as he grows he will choose to do likewise. I admit, I do want my son to be proud of me, because he sees in me in some small way the example of Christ.

I want to practice spontaneous (as well as planned) generosity. How about you?

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