On a sunny lunch break while attending high school, I went for my customary walk into town. A classmate drove up in his shiny two-door coupe and offered a ride. Because he had already offered rides to other students, I soon found myself in the back seat beneath a pile of humanity. I panicked. I was overcome with a massive case of claustrophobia. I pinched the unlucky guy sprawled on my lap and demanded to be released from my torment. I still remember the sense of relief when the car came to a halt and I escaped to freedom.
The car and its driver seemed quite reliable. I was not in any real danger. But in that moment and overtaken with fear, my mind disconnected from what I knew to be true.
Many of us experience the same detachment from reality when it comes to practicing generosity. We know we are invited to give proportionately of what God has entrusted to us, but we are completely paralyzed by fear in acting on our belief. We have a severe case of “generosi-phobia.”
Authors Smith and Davidson, in The Paradox of Generosity, conclude: “Living with a perspective of scarcity rather than abundance—that is, from a place of fear—is stressful and inevitably diminishes people’s well-being.”
What fears keep us from being generous with our money? Let’s label them.
- We are afraid to give sacrificially thinking we will run short for our own needs.
- We have set the bar high for our lifestyle and generosity does not support this notion.
- We are afraid that what we do give will be misused and therefore no gift is better.
- We are led to believe that we never have enough for retirement.
- We may lose our job tomorrow and be left in hopeless poverty.
- We cannot part with our hard-earned money because it gives us a sense of security.
- We won’t be able to keep up with the lifestyle expectations of our friends and neighbours.
- We must provide for our children even well into their adulthood.
- When given the option to part with our money we think we will lose our source of happiness.
- We are afraid that God is not really trustworthy, that we have to help God out by storing more.
Are our fears realistic? Perhaps not. Just like my claustrophobic episode in the back of a hot car, our fear that we won’t have enough may be completely out of touch with reality. According to recent UN research, if we have $500,000 in assets we are in the top one percentile of wealthy adults in the world. Maybe we need a reality check.
We believe the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Philippians (4:19) that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (NIV),” but our response often contradicts this belief. We worry, which leads us to save and stash away.
Jesus mentions “worry” six times in Matthew 6:25-34 when he talks about God feeding the birds and clothing the flowers. He anticipates our struggle to really trust God with the most basic needs of life.
Giving is an expression of our fearlessness. By being generous, we are acknowledging that God is the provider. If we cannot rely on God to look after our needs, the idea of giving is completely irrational. As a result, our mind conjures up the worst-case scenarios so we continue in our tight-fisted ways. What we should really fear is our inability to trust God.
“By giving we receive and by grasping we lose” (Smith and Davidson). Begin by thinking about how much you possess, rather than how much you don’t have. Start small and see how good it feels to give. Let us help you discover that generosity doesn’t have to be scary.
Arnie Friesen is a stewardship consultant at Mennonite Foundation of Canada, serving generous people in British Columbia. For more information on generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.