I am not a Christmassy type of person. I don’t mind this time of year, the decorations are okay, although they don’t put me in a joyful mood like they do for some people, the food is good although it doesn’t excite me a great deal, and the carols I can leave – I certainly don’t get too involved in any fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la-ing.
What does excite me at this time of year is the idea of giving. We have a special season where we think about what others would like to receive. Now, that can be stressful, but we can also look at it as a great opportunity to put a smile on the face of someone we care about. The reason it is stressful, perhaps, is that if we don’t spend much time throughout the year thinking about what others would like, it is very difficult to switch that part of our brain on in December.
Often I hear people talking about becoming the best version of themselves, something that I am striving for also and I think that we go a long way to being the best version of ourselves when we are giving. When we are generous to others and giving back.
So, use this Christmas time to be the best version of you. Be generous to those around you, give great, well thought out gifts to friends, family and people you don’t know – like a chicken, for example.
Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…
Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…
It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.
When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.
The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.
Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it. Really, if you care about people and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.
One of the most well known characters in Literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the one, the miserly old man who places all his value and effort into the riches he earns and doesn’t care for the people around him, until one Christmas eve he is visited by the ghosts of past, present and future. It’s the final one, which forces him to face the fear of the unknown and to think of what life would look like for others after he died which changes his attitude. A thought provoking fiction and a standard movie to watch at Christmas.
There is such a thing as the Ebenezer Scrooge Effect, which has seen many people change their attitudes towards money and relationships as they get older and think about their mortality. The reality of death can be an incredibly positive thing.
People who have been miserly and greedy have become generous and thoughtful, and as a result their quality of life improves as does the quality of life of those around them.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait until a certain age to start being generous, we don’t have to wait until we are at death’s door – we can save time and a lot of heartache and begin now, changing the way we think and behave.
It starts with small actions, giving some time, some kind words, some money to an organisation that you like. Doing these things consistently will create the generous quality of life that we are called to.
I have a secret for you.
I have jealousy issues.
You may have felt like this too. I can only describe it as a pang. This feeling deep within when you hear of someone doing well, creating success in what they are doing, getting credit for great things they are doing, being recognised for how great they are at stuff.
On the outside you may hear yourself say, ‘Good for them. I always knew they had it in them. I am very excited for them’, but on the inside there is this little voice that whispers, ‘I wish that was me’.
It’s confronting to notice that side of yourself.
Jealousy is completely self-centred. It ruins creativity, positivity, relationships, it sucks joy out of any moment and it kills generosity.
Jealousy is the opposite of generosity.
I think the best way to overcome a negative attribute is to aim to become the positive attribute. Instead of trying to stop myself acting out of jealousy, I will focus on what generosity looks like and become that.
Generosity is other-centred, provides space for creativity, acceptance, builds a positive environment and is the foundation of all quality relationships. It provides joy and snuffs out jealousy.
Generosity is a true attribute of the heart of God. He generously pours out His love for us, His mercies are new every day.
Have you ever gone shopping and splurged a little bit, arriving back home with more items than you had originally planned, which brings about feelings of guilt and shame, even though it is your money and you can spend it however you want?
Ever been there?
It turns out you are not alone. It’s a global phenomenon. The feeling of guilt after a splurge comes because we feel like we are stealing from other important parts of our budget. Like the mortgage, or rent or food. But, studies tell us, if we set aside money in our budget specifically to splurge then the guilt disappears. Just like that, because that money is there to be spent however you want and it gives you the freedom to do that.
It’s the same with generosity and giving. Sometimes we feel guilt when we give because there are other important things that require our finance and it can feel like we are stealing from those parts when we are generous.
If we set aside money to give away, become intentional about being generous, that will overcome any guilt we may feel and make it easier for us to make a positive difference in the world.
Be generous on purpose.
I don’t know if it happens at a specific time in life, or if it becomes a consistent interruption in thinking, but the desire to leave a lasting impact on our world is a strong motivation for many people. Some would call it a legacy.
Legacy is a heavy word with connotations of a long term, far off benefit for some unknown people. But in reality it doesn’t have to be like that.
We can all leave a legacy starting right now, through two easy steps.
Firstly, we can give money generously to causes that we care about. Our donations have long lasting impacts and will benefit our world from the moment we give.
Secondly, we can include our kids in the process of giving and generosity. We can start by having conversations with them about the organisations we support, show them the stories of lives being changed because of our giving, and invite them to participate through giving some of their pocket money, or birthday money and letting them suggest some organisations that we can give to.
These simple actions and conversations with our children will not only impact our world, but also our family for generations to come. Creating a culture of generosity with our kids will bring about gratitude and positivity within the family unit.
One of the greatest issues in our world, is the amount people living in extreme poverty.
One of the other great issues of our time is the impact of extreme wealth. They are two sides of the same coin.
People often talk about the great needs of the poor, but poverty has more than one definition.
There is such a thing as too much creating poverty. We call it the poverty of the non-poor.
This kind of poverty, where there is excess, creates greed, corruption, health issues from too much food, and slavery to the idea of a bigger and better house, a newer car, a faster boat.
Somewhere in the middle of nothing and excess there is a balance where we are neither a slave to survival nor a slave to possessions. The wisdom of Proverbs chapter 30 offers a prayer which says “Give me neither poverty nor riches, Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”
Overcoming poverty of the non-poor requires generosity; learning to master the excess and become skilled at giving money away.
I recently found myself working from a cafe and when a large group of seniors came in. I was very politely approached by staff to see if I could shift tables to allow for the group to sit together. This was not a problem of course – I was more than happy to oblige…until I realised that the group of seniors didn’t seem to be that thankful. I felt they almost had an expectation that I should move for them. There was almost a sense of entitlement. I found myself wishing they were more thankful for my act of kindness and even feeling some regret for being so willing to help out. Very quickly, I am a little ashamed to say, my willingness to help out and do something for someone else turned into hostility, which all came about because of how I perceived that people were responding.
If we knew in advance whether or not someone was going to be thankful, or show gratitude to us in a manner that we would expect, I wonder how much that would impact our behaviour. It may make things easier but it could possibly create a world in which we would only do nice things to those who would offer thanks in return. It would take the risk out of generosity. Making it a kind of love your neighbour and hate your enemy situation.
But Jesus flipped this mentality on its head, He taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. It is an encouragement to act out of generosity to anyone you come across regardless of how they might respond to you. It’s a tough ask.
But it comes with an incredible strength. Someone whose behaviour does not depend on the response of those around them shows true character, especially if they are able to be generous is a hostile environment.
It’s much easier to repay people in kind, to offer animosity for animosity. Being generous is a life changer, for you and the people you are being generous to. You might not get a wave of thanks in return, but it’s worth the effort to bring a little bit of love into our world.
One of the greatest examples of generosity comes from the life of King David, in the Old Testament in the Bible.
He had made a mistake. His pride got the better of him and he insisted on knowing exactly how many fighting men he had under his command. Whilst it sounds innocuous enough, what it shows is his priority at the time. It showed what his ‘god’ was in that moment. He put his faith in numbers rather than in the strength of God – as a result his men paid the price as a plague devastated them.
A prophet came to David after the plague had passed, David felt incredibly guilty and ashamed that his actions had caused damage to his men, and the Prophet said, ‘it’s time to worship God now, go and build an altar on that land over there and worship.’
As David went to do that, the owner of the land approached him and offered to give him the land and the animals to use for free. Surely that’s one of the many benefits of being a king…
But his response showed his true heart – he said ‘I will not offer something to God that cost me nothing’. It would have been all to easy to go ahead and take advantage of the situation but David knew he needed to value what he was about to offer God.
That is an incredibly powerful message. As we think about giving and generosity may it be a helpful reminder, that giving without sacrifice is not generosity. If it costs us nothing to give then the gift is worth nothing.
We all have motivations that drive our behaviour, whether they be to feel good, or because of love, or a sense of responsibility and sometimes it comes from guilt.
Guilt can be a strong motivator and I have come across a number of people who will give generously to churches or charities to appease a sense of guilt they feel about one thing or another. Sometimes that guilt comes purely from within them, and other times the organisations they give to have sought to create a sense of guilt for them, so that they will give.
Whilst guilt can motivate us to do good things, it is not a quality long term motivating factor. After a while, people will generally tire of feeling guilty, like they are trapped in to doing something, and cease to engage in their generous acts.
A stronger motivation, and a somewhat healthier one, is a sense of responsibility. This is a more positive, proactive response that doesn’t require someone to feel bad about there current situation. Instead it provides a way for a person to use their current situation for the benefit of others. To act out of freedom.
As Australians, we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we could feel guilty about that and offer our generosity as some sort of payment to overcome the guilt, or we can see our place in the world as a gift, which carries with it a responsibility to help others who are not as financially blessed as we are.