Grace Pomroy, who led a Stewardship workshop in our Presbytery a few years ago, recently shared some thoughts she has had about giving gifts and presented some challenging ideas about what often happens to us in our gift giving. She also caused me to consider how I respond when I am given a gift. I hope you will see a little of yourself in her thoughts as I did…
“I don’t know about you, but I’m way more comfortable giving than I am receiving. I enjoy the whole process from start to finish—thinking of gift ideas, creating or purchasing the gifts, and seeing the joy on the recipient’s face. I also enjoy giving money to my favorite causes—researching the organizations, challenging myself to give just a little more than I might be comfortable with, and seeing how this money makes an impact for those in need. No doubt, giving is good for the soul.
At times, though, I’ve seen my giving slide from being more about the other person to being more about me. That sinner/saint duality churning deep within me comes bubbling up to the surface. I’ve seen it in the way I focus more on the reaction of the person than the act of giving. I’ve felt it as I’ve taken pride in being able to give to others freely with no expectation or want of return. I’ve sensed it as I’ve longed for recognition of my generous giving. It’s easy for my giving to become all about me.
As stewardship leaders, we love inviting people to give and to join in the giving ourselves. We live for those moments when the lightbulb blinks on and someone begins to understand the life-changing power of generosity. Yet, all this giving has no meaning if we forget why we are doing it in the first place. As people of faith, we are called to give, and give generously, not because we are rich, not because we have our lives together, not because we are better than other people, not because we enjoy it, but because of what God has done for us. We give as a response to the multitude of ways that God has come down to us in love. We give to live out God’s call to use all that God has entrusted to our care to love God and our neighbor. We give because we are stewards.
That’s why I think it’s just as important that we teach people not only how to be faithful givers, but also how to be faithful receivers. One of my favorite stewardship texts is Luke chapter 10—both Jesus’ dialogue with the lawyer and his parable of the Good Samaritan. For years, I read this text hearing God inviting and challenging me to live up to the example of the Good Samaritan. Someone who shows up giving everything he has to this man who was his cultural enemy. He offers his time, his possessions, his skills, his empathy, his money, his strength, and so much more. What a paragon of stewardship!
Yet, in the last few years, I’ve started to read this text differently. Maybe God is calling us, not to see ourselves in the place of the Samaritan, but in the place of the man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road? The one who has no choice but to accept God’s love and grace in action through the hands of a person he would least expect or want to help him. The one who has no choice but to be a receiver. For it is only in the act of receiving that we learn what it means to be a faithful giver.
Dr. David Lose says, ‘We are invited to be a community that is bound together by our shared need, by an awareness of our common vulnerability, by a sense that God has worked through so many people to care for us, wants still to meet our needs through others (and sometimes through those we would least expect or want to help us), and also invites us to look around and care for those similarly in need. Might we see ourselves, that is, as those who, having recognized ourselves as the traveler left for dead in a ditch by the road, can now arise to reach out to others in need?’
It’s a narrative of death and resurrection played out through the cycle of receiving and giving. As we continue to receive God’s boundless and unmerited love and grace, we can more eagerly give to our neighbors out of joyful response to what God has done for us. I continue to go back again and again to those times I played the role of the receiver. I recall the big moments, like the encouragement and generosity I received from friends, family, and co-workers after my husband was injured in a car accident a few years ago. The countless people who bought us groceries, sent my husband “get well soon” cards, picked up the phone when I was at my wit’s end, and patiently listened and helped us get through a dark time. I also think about the more mundane reminders of God’s love and grace: a smile from a stranger, the sunrise on a bleak morning, a call from a loved one just when I needed it.”
I think Grace has captured the essence of this season we are all anxiously drifting through. We have been challenged and called upon to give in new ways to those around us in need as we do what we can to protect them and ourselves. You may find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, and I invite you to resist the urge to shy away from it. Embrace the love of the giver and offer them the thanksgiving you feel in your heart. Let those moments and those gifts fill your cup to overflowing so that God’s love shines brightly on all!
This Christmas let us focus on all that is bright and beautiful around us because…
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Merry Christmas! I look forward to what the New Year holds for us in ministry!
POJ Associate for Stewardship