Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Giving

Zambia is....amazingchallengingconfusingstressfulbeautifulwonderfultransformational. I really don't have words to describe the people here, how much I'm learning from them, and how much I love them. And being here and seeing the many things I see has forced me to question a great deal in the area of giving. To be honest, the need here is overwhelming, and the pain and suffering is very very real, more real than I often want to allow myself to believe. I've gone through a wide range of emotions and thoughts; everything from feeling tortured as I crawl under the covers in my heated home knowing that others are not as warm in the frigid Zambian nights, to desperately trying to cling to all the "stuff" that makes me comfortable and forget the big challenges here. I found that I really needed a framework for understanding how to live now that my own little world is a little bigger.

I don't have it figured out. I realized that it kind of sounds like I've got some magic explanation to share after that last paragraph, which I don't. But because I've gone down many thought paths that are not healthy, helpful, or good, hopefully I have a tiny bit of insight I can share about giving in the context of the love of God.

I've learned that, at least for me, the initial tendency is to give out of comparison. The train of thought is: "I have so much and they have so little so I need to give to them." This comparative analysis is counterproductive in several ways. One, it becomes one-directional. In this thought process we can never receive, we are above, we are in power. How horrifying! Giving is about relationships, which involve humility and recognition of the fact that we don’t, in fact, know everything. And a unilateral approach forgets that everyone is gifted, that we too are in need, and in the middle of the learning process. It also leads to separation: “me” and “them” as opposed to “we.” It ends with minimization of others: “they have so little.” Out of this place we are actually disrespecting and devaluing others, instead of the opposite.

Two, it urges giving out of guilt and shame. This is clearly not what God intended and there are no passages in the Bible that follow this train of thought. Since this logic begins with “I have so much,” we start out as guilty; in the negative. We feel bad about what we have, and feel we must deny it to wipe away our guilt. This is all wrong. In this people give to justify themselves instead of out of genuine love for the well-being of others. It leads to a lack of thankfulness and a self-focused form of giving.

Three, it removes humanity from giving, which in turn may result in resentful giving. A simple knowledge of the proportional differences teaches you nothing about the human person behind the “quantity,” or the immense value God has for that person. Thus knowing intellectually that you have more than others in a certain area does nothing with your heart. It will be easy to feel angry about giving; why bother sacrificing when you do not care about the person for whom you sacrifice? It can actually lead to the exact opposite: clinging to “stuff,” giving leftovers, or giving nothing at all.

In this system of analysis, it’s easy to get caught up in solely financial “haves” and “have-nots.” If this happens, we may begin to think poor cannot participate in the gift of giving to others because our focus is on only the material. Jesus CLEARLY goes against this—when a widow gave less than 2 pennies as an offering, he said she gave more than all the wealthy givers, and the poor are blessed and gifted in his “economy.” The poor DO participate in giving when it's no longer motivated by or limited to comparative financial analysis. I cannot tell you how much my homeless friend Safya or my widowed friend Joyce have given to me. God’s gifts are diverse, and not limited to financial resources. Sometimes the greatest gift we can offer is a listening ear (or maybe two).

God made us, He actually structured us and formed us, to give. It sounds crazy and counterintuitive, but it’s a gift that we can give! It's healthy and good. He gives (in so, so many ways) because He cares, and He gives so we can also give. God celebrates who we are, which is not dependent on what we do or do not have, or know, or possess, or achieve. Thus our motivation should NOT stem from looking at what others have, but who they are. Which is a person loved by God. And if they are, we too should love, celebrate, and value that person. Which means desiring their good.

I believe our attitude when meeting someone in need, be it materially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. is to start by seeing them as a human being loved by Christ. If we know that, we want to give for their own benefit, because they are valuable, and to give for their own good because they are equally loved. Desiring good because they are loved by God entirely changes out motivation to give, as well as the executed giving itself. We are no longer resentful or guilty, we are no longer giving to serve ourselves, and we are no longer on differing levels. It removes the power dynamic and inserts a celebration of the fellow human and the God who made them beautiful. This means that our willingness to give is not dependent on, or proportional to, what we have. The attitude is not to look at how much less they may have, but how equally they are loved and valued.

I don’t offer up an equation for how to give, because I’m really not sure there is one. Those points at which we struggle to know what is right can lead us closer to God, and since God gives creatively, it would be a shame to reduce it to an empirical analysis. I’m literally writing this as someone who really, really struggles to love and to give healthily and in a holy way. But if I’m learning anything, it’s that where our love is lacking and broken, God can supply and heal. And I must remember that I’m needy too.  

And one final thing: it’s important to remember that our value doesn't stem from what we possess either. So it’s not worth clinging to the “stuff.” Our aim should be for our love to grow.

John 13:34-35:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jeremiah 31:3 “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’”

Ephesians 3:16-21: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


Waving hello...

...and making silly faces! Aren't these kids the most amazing???/


Deborah joking around with my glasses!


What the what.

Lettuce!

Yup, brussel sprouts

The avocados here are water-bottle sized. The teachers at Mercy will use them as paper weights, then cut them up and add a touch of sugar...so so good!!

Honestly, the craziest and most beautiful plants grow here!

3 comments:

  1. Molly this reminds me so much of a book I've been reading that's amazing! It's called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp! I can send it to you dear friend. Thank you for your heartfelt honesty here. So true that every person is valuable, and by believing they have a lot to offer we recognize their value. I have to say sometimes I do listen with only one ear ; ) The work God is doing in your heart just makes me sooooo happy! I love you!!!

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  2. What a powerful witness to the love of God and what it entails. Beautiful ... thank you so much for sharing (led here through Wings of the Dawn blog) and I am so thankful for her link to you ... giving in a totally honest and perfect way in which the Lord requires.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading, and for your comment! It encouraged me a great deal. Sending prayers your way!

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