I have a student whose mother is a serious alcoholic and who, of necessity, has assumed the role of parenting her younger siblings. She has considered cancelling her own college plans so that she can stay home and care for her family, but I am pressuring her to move on and not take responsibility for people and things for which she is not and should not be responsible. She said to me recently, ” I feel exhausted and empty and I just don’t have any more to give.” This remark got me thinking about times in my own life when I’ve felt extenuated, but somehow found a way to move beyond the feelings of aloneness and poverty.
Lent calls us to deny ourselves creature comforts so we might realize more deeply our dependence on God. Too, we are called to increase our generosity to others, but it is difficult to be generous is when we ourselves are feeling poor. While some of us have experienced actually being in the red financially and emotionally, there are some of us who would feel insecure even if we had a million dollars in the bank and we were in perfect health. Either way, as the old adage goes, it is always in giving that we receive–meaning that when we are living in a state of lack, the very gesture we may least want to give is the very act that could help us realize the abundance we seek. One way of thinking about generosity is to expend energy where it is needed. Giving money to a cause or person in need is one way to give energy. Giving attention, love, or a smile to another person are other acts of giving that we can offer. Praying for others is also a deep way to give, after all, there are people all over the world that are hungry for love and they need our prayers.
Sometimes when we practice generosity we are being selfish. We expect something back from the one we have helped. We might even become angry or resentful if that person does not reciprocate. However, knowing that God alone is our Source should allow us to practice generosity with no strings attached. This is the purest form of giving. So often we forget that what we send out invariably comes back to us. Selflessly helping a friend in need without expecting them to return the same favor in the same way, is a way of expressing faith in God that He will provide for you when you are in that situation. Besides, while giving conditionally creates stress (because we are waiting with an invisible balance sheet to receive our due), giving unconditionally creates and generates abundance. We give freely, because we trust that there is always an unlimited supply. This is our way of co-creating the universe after God’s eternal plan.
Being aware of how much we are always supported by our gracious God is one of the keys to abundance and generosity. It helps to remember anyone who has helped us when we were in dire straits, allowing us to embrace all situations that come into our life for the lessons and gifts they bring. Remember that all things given and received emanate from generosity. Giving is an act of gratitude. Plant the seeds of generosity through your acts of giving, and you will grow the fruits of abundance for yourself and those around you. Feeling extenuated and poor ourselves, we find that giving even a small bit of our truest selves can be healing balm in the midst of the worst personal drought.