Selfish Generosity

I am always looking to evaluate myself, and I try to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I want to understand as best as possible how my mind works and what motivates my behavior. Recently, God has given me insight into why I respond the way I do when someone wants something from me. I realized that I am happier to give when it’s my idea. That probably seems like a straightforward description of the selfish, human condition, but to me, it is explaining my emotions surrounding the things I do for other people.

The glaring symptom of my problem is how annoyed I get when organizations that I already support ask for more money. I am especially irked by requests that presume to know how I am spending my money (ie. “If you just give up having a latte once a week. . .”). My annoyance peaks around this recently made-up event in November called “Giving Tuesday.” I guess that I am supposed to make up for my greedy capitalism on Black Friday and Cyber Monday by being philanthropic on Tuesday. Again, there is a presumption that I am using my money a certain way, combined with a pressure to join in with group behavior.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Every year, I pray that God will allow me to be more generous than the year before, and I budget for an increase in monthly giving. If my income goes up, or God makes me aware of a particular need, I give more. But when letters or emails come in asking for money, it rubs me the wrong way. I have realized, recently, that when I am asked for the money, it takes some of the joy away from giving. It was clear to me that, due to the pandemic, my church and the ministries I support were likely to face a decrease in donations. Since God has kept me working, I determined to give more. Then a letter came in the mail from a ministry I support. The letter was asking for more money, for the very reason that I had already given extra, and it took the wind out of my sails. It was fun and joyful when it was my idea, but the fact that they were asking switched my brain to begrudging mode.

This carries over into other areas of my life. I enjoy doing things more when I am not asked to do them. At home, if my sister asks me to take care of a chore, I tend to feel nagged. Yet, if I see something that I know she needs or wants done, I am eager to do it before she has the chance. Even when I was a teenager, if I was home alone, I loved to hurry and clean the house to surprise my mother when she returned. It made me happy. But is the gift or the service actually enhanced by my initiative or the surprise?

You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Deuteronomy, 15:10-11

God knows our hearts and cares about our reasons. Begrudging obedience does not honor Him, and He does not delight in grumbling. When I began writing this week, I was a bit self-righteous. I didn’t realize that God had a lesson for me. As I wrote and looked to Scripture, He made it clear that my attitude needed correction. I want to think of myself as generous, but my annoyance at every request shows that my heart is not as generous as it should be. Generosity isn’t a percentage or a dollar amount, it is an open hand that does not hold tightly to anything that God has provided. I want to think that I am ready and willing to meet the needs around me, but the truth is that I only want to do it on my own terms. My heart overflows for the girls I sponsor in Haiti. I have never met them, but I have chosen to love them. Meanwhile, there are people I interact with daily that I do not show love for, or generosity towards.

While I am not obligated to give when asked, the resentment in my heart toward the asking shows that there is a root of selfishness in my heart. While I think that I give sacrificially, there are things that I specifically hold back from giving to. In my heart, I say that this is because the money needs to be available to be generous in other areas. But I wonder if I don’t trust God with my finances as much as I claim to. I have a lot to consider and pray about. When it comes to obedience, I have a long way to go. I am praying that God will help me change my attitude. I want to be open to doing what will honor Him. Even when the answer to a request is ‘No,’ I shouldn’t resent being asked. The real joy shouldn’t be dependent on whether it was my idea. Instead, the joy rests in knowing that cheerful obedience pleases God.

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