How do I get better at being generous?
I find myself being less-than-generous quite often. I want to have a better attitude, but people keep wanting things from me: they want my time, my help, and my financial support. How do I get better at being generous?
This is a fantastic question. Many people want to be wise in their lives, but it is something special when a person is asking for a way to become even more than simply wise, they want to become good. Even more, in your question, I hear you asking how you can become more like Christ.
This is the best possible question because it is the entire point of being a Christian: becoming like Christ in all things. So, when it comes to “his stuff,” how did Jesus view his life? While Jesus is the Lord of all and is fully divine and equal to the Father, in his humanity he was absolutely insistent on affirming that he lived to do the Father’s will. How did he see “his life/stuff/mission”? It might be boiled down to the statement, “All things have been handed to me by my Father.” How did Jesus live generosity? It began with his fundamental attitude towards life.
Let me say it this way, if we want to become more generous, it doesn’t begin with action, it begins with vision. It has less to do with how we live in the world and more with how we look at the world. A person can behave generously (and that would be very good), but behavior has to have a deeper root, and this deeper root is one’s worldview.
There are essentially two ways of looking at one’s life: as an owner or as a steward. I can see all of my stuff, my time, my talents, and my everything as “mine,” or I can see all of those things as what has been “entrusted” to me. They are either my possessions or they are someone else’s possessions that are merely on loan to me. The difference between these two worldviews cannot be underestimated.
If I look at my life as my life, there are two natural tendencies that I will likely embrace. First, I will quickly become insensitive and indifferent to all of the good in my life. After all, if all of this is “mine,” then I will rapidly take it all for granted. It is no longer a gift, it is what I am “owed.” Of course I have this body: it’s mine. Of course I have these gifts; they’re mine. Of course I have these accomplishments; they’re mine.
If that is how I see them, then I might be generous with them, but each time, I am generous with “my” stuff. I may give you some of “my” time, but that continually costs me something. There is a limit to generosity like this, and there is a limit to gratitude if my attitude is like this.
In addition, if my perspective is that my gifts, things, and time are my own possessions, then what is my perspective when they are taken away? Every gift we have will be taken from us. Every bit of time will be taken from us ultimately. At some point, each one of us will get sick, suffer loss, run out of time, and die. If I believe that I am the rightful owner of my life, then I will likely view that loss with resentment. I could potentially become overwhelmingly bitter at the prospect of losing all of my things.
These are two of the consequences of seeing oneself as the owner: ingratitude in the face of giftedness and resentment over those gifts being taken away.
But that is not the only option. And it is not the perspective of Jesus. We can acknowledge the deeper truth that we are not owners but stewards. We do not have possessions, we have been entrusted with gifts by the Father. They are his.
Remember the parable of the talents? Or the parable of the gold coins? After the master distributes the talents or coins to the servants, he leaves with the hope that the servants will do something with his gifts. In fact, when he returns, he asks, “What did you do with my money?” It is his money. They are his gifts. Every moment, every heartbeat, is his. Every breath and every talent you or I have belongs to him. We have been entrusted with his gifts so that we can do what he wants with those gifts.
This should lead us to incredible gratitude and generosity. At every moment, we could give thanks over every little thing that we know does not belong to us, but that he continues to entrust to us. Imagine waking up and giving God thanks for the gift of sight. Imagine not complaining about being sick, but being able to breathe and saying, “God, thank you so much that I am not sniffling today!” Rather than resenting the gift that has been taken away, imagine the freedom of being able to let go of the gift without hesitation and give God praise for the amount of time he shared it with us.
The way to be generous is to acknowledge that we are not the owners of anything in this world, we are stewards. And nothing we have been entrusted with actually belongs to us; it is his and each day we have been given multiple more opportunities to use his gifts the way he wants.
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.