As children, we are all taught to share. It’s one of the hardest lessons for young kids to learn, especially when they really want to keep the requested item. For instance, when my grandson is asked to share a certain set of toys, he frequently offers a totally different (and usually unacceptable) toy that he doesn’t want, so he can keep the desired ones all to himself. “Mine!” is the cry of the child.
Have we really outgrown that impulse? So much of the message of Jesus, and indeed of all scripture, is about generous, big-hearted, selfless giving. But what a challenge! Even as an adult, it’s easy to give or to share when I have more than enough for myself or when I don’t much care about the requested item. What about when I have to sacrifice something I want in order to give it to someone else? Too often, my inner toddler comes out and I suggest other alternatives or try to finagle my way into getting to keep what I want. If I simply must give something up, I am not the “cheerful giver” that God loves; I give with resignation or downright resentment. Then I am tempted to keep track of who gave what and when, so in the future, I can call in the favor and balance the scales.
Interestingly, despite that difficulty with physical giving, on the emotional side I’ve frequently been known to “over-give”. I want to make others happy or I want to be liked or I want to uphold my treasured image as a good person, so I sacrifice myself to such a degree that I have nothing left – no energy, no strength, no reserves. When I am so depleted, I am not a cheerful giver nor an effective one. It is just as unhealthy and un-Christian as the refusal to give in the first place, although it is often harder to discern because it seems so virtuous.
How can we achieve balance on both ends of the spectrum? We need to adopt the heart of Christ. We need to pray and allow God to transform our hearts into God’s own, to join our will to the will of God. Remember, Jesus didn’t cling to possessions, people, or even life itself. Yet he didn’t over-give either; he took care of himself as the valued son of God. I am slowly and sometimes painfully learning to give generously and cheerfully both physically and emotionally, and yet to respect the dignity and value I have as God’s beloved child by also generously and cheerfully tending to my own needs. I still find the latter more difficult, but I’m learning.
What about you? Have you sacrificed too much of yourself and left yourself depleted? What are you doing to ensure you have the strength and resources you need to serve God and others well? Let’s work together to give with open arms and hearts, while also allowing ourselves rest and replenishment so we can continue the journey.
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.corgenius.com/.