August 12, 2010 on 11:00 am
Dear Spiritual Explorer:
My spiritual teacher is always telling me to serve the poor. But sometimes I am feeling unloved and don’t feel like it. How can I change that feeling and be more generous in giving? Jen K., Milwaukee, WI
Giving, the Sacred Art by Lauren Tyler Wright
Dear Jen: If we only gave when we felt like it, we probably would not give at all. We cannot always be “on” as it were with respect to giving and generosity, but I can offer a few hints as to how to get with it. You see, Jen, there is an art to giving and generosity, and you just have to find it.
Sometimes, people feel that they have to do large acts of giving in order to be thought generous. But just lending an ear and being generous with your attention can help others. A smile to somebody who looks “down and out,” an offer to help somebody cross the street, or even to pet someone’s dog, is a generous gesture towards helping others. You don’t necessarily have to be on the first flight to Haiti or Uganda to make a gesture of giving and generosity to those around you. A friend of mine told me the other day that since she could not go to some place overseas where there was great starvation, she was beginning to feel not worthy. The truth is we are so deluged with stories of people’s suffering around the globe that we sometimes get confused as to what acts of giving and generosity we are actually being called upon to do in this lifetime.
Your question is not unique and I have received many similar. That is why I was so excited to read this book Giving, the Sacred Art – Creating a Lifestyle of Generosity by Lauren Tyler Wright. Lauren speaks of being educated in a seminary and as a result, the art of giving and generosity was very much in her awareness. In this book she has explored all different types of giving, from millionaire donations down to serving in a soup kitchen. What I liked about her much nuanced book is that she speaks of the difficulties that sometimes arise in our minds when we tend to discriminate in our giving. Do you really want to give to some guy on the street who you think might be using your money for buying drugs?
In her case, she spoke of a man who came to her home, asking her to employ him as a lawn cutter, since he was recently unemployed. She saw that he was of a lower socio-economic class than she and was a bit suspicious as to his ultimate motives. While she was wary of him initially, she still felt moved by his story of being out of a job. While the job went on for several weeks and her lawn was becoming quite manicured, he then asked her directly to give him some money for his daughter’s asthma medicine Now, while she did not know for sure that this was true, she decided to err on the side of generosity. She also spoke of how she and others are constantly being exposed to that same issue: whether to judge or discriminate or err on the side of giving and generosity. One of the things she did was begin to look at people right in the face and imagine the suffering that they might be undergoing at that time, thus lessening that judgment with which we all struggle.
She also talks about coming into thinking of one’s stewardship of the world, and what that means is that giving and generosity become an act of responsibility for humanity and our brethren in particular. She then set out to make a budget for herself that would put aside money very deliberately for that purpose. It was no longer a unique event to give, but something which she intended to pursue lifelong and incorporate into her monthly budget.
Most important, she speaks of the importance of feeling obliged in her giving and generosity. Because she considers herself a spiritual person, she looks upon her generosity as an obligation rather than a whim. Humorously, she compares it to brushing her teeth in the morning or serving breakfast to her kids. The giving and generosity become that same kind of habit. In so doing, she hopes to transform herself into what her idea of godliness and stewardship of the planet is. As she says, “When we are willing to use whatever wealth and possessions we retain in holy and life-giving ways, by choice or by obligation, God forms us to be more like God. Our entire lives become an act of generosity, and we have the opportunity to be shaped into the best versions of our selves possible.”
I guess the moral of this story is even if you ain’t got anything to give, give it anyway— hopefully with generosity of spirit! Thanks for writing, Jen. Spiritual Explorer
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