2 Corinthians 9:6-10
I’ve heard the scripture passage so many times – "God loves a cheerful giver". It is easy to be a "cheerful giver" when I freely choose what, when, and to whom I give, and especially when my offering is visibly appreciated. I love it, for instance, when I take time to bake cinnamon rolls from scratch, and then watch my sons’ joy as they devour them one by one. I cheerfully join my sons in sponsoring a child living in poverty, especially since the monthly donation makes not a dent in our family’s budget and we receive heartfelt letters from the child. For the parish’s clothing collection, I happily box up outdated fashions, clothes too small for our grown offspring, and items we never wear anyway. I have made it a habit when I travel to compliment people in the airport, allow them to go in line ahead of me, offer a mint to the person sitting next to me, and generally try to make a few people’s lives a little better amidst the hustle and hassle of air flight. See God? I am a cheerful giver!
Yet I am often put to shame by others I encounter on the journey. For instance, there was a young Muslim woman in the airport restroom. When I admired the scarf that covered her head and hair, she said, "Oh if you like it, you may have it; I have another." I kindly declined her unexpected offer, and wondered how often I would be willing to so readily give my sweater, shawl, purse, or other item to a stranger who liked it. Am I a cheerful giver when it’s not something I would have chosen to give?
Arriving on a delayed flight into a huge airport, I frantically ran toward the gate for my connecting flight, my face contorted as I gasped for each breath. A woman with a burn-scarred face gently touched my shoulder and said, "Peace." I whirled around, exasperated by the interruption, and protested, "But my flight leaves in 20 minutes from the other terminal." Her response calmly flowed: "It’s OK. Take a minute to breathe. You will make it, and all will be well." In spite of myself, I paused and took a deep cleansing breath. As I took off again, I heard her voice calling to me from behind, "God bless you." I continued on, no less quickly but far less frantically, and I did indeed make my connection. Sitting on the plane, I thought of this angel who despite her own pain acted with profound compassion. Ashamedly, I realized I didn’t say thank you or even take a moment to truly look into her eyes. My offer of a mint to a fellow passenger paled in comparison. Am I a cheerful giver who can set my own needs and pains aside to minister to another?
A young girl’s liver was failing rapidly. Her grade-school teacher was a match and volunteered to be the donor. The girl received a portion of her teacher’s liver, and she is alive today. What would it take for me to undergo the risk of major surgery and give an organ from my body to another person – especially someone not even in my own family – in hopes that they might live? Am I willing to cheerfully give my own body, blood, and life for another?
The challenge offered by scripture is an expansive one, calling me to go beyond my comfort zone and my familiar modes of "giving". God calls me to detach from my possessions, be generous to all those in need (which includes learning to see them when they are right in front of my face), be willing to lose my life, and live in such a way that when people see me they see Christ. That is a tall order indeed, and I have a long way to go to measure up to it.
Help me, God, to truly and cheerfully give without reservation – of my time, my gifts, my treasure, and my very self. Mold my heart and my life so that people I encounter may speak of me in the words of Rabindrinath Tagore: "After you had taken your leave, I found God’s footprints on my floor."
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.