Tis the season to be giving!
During this holiday season, we remind ourselves that this is a time for generosity. That is the essential purpose behind Christmas gifts. It isn’t the getting of cool new stuff, but an exercise in being generous to others. Because at heart, love is a gift.
Whenever I struggle with generosity, I always reflect on the “Generosity Prayer” by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It goes like this:
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.
Let’s take this prayer line by line and reflect on what St. Ignatius may be tell us.
“Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous…”
This implies that we do not already know how to do this on our own. One of the biggest struggles in the spiritual life is to think that we have the power to be good. We do not. Only God can make us good. Must work with His grace. I am nothing without him. I cannot be truly generous unless He shows me the way. Notice Ignatius uses the verb “teach.” God is not going make us empty puppets. He will show us the way and give us the power, but we must make the choice to follow Him.
“Teach me to serve you as you deserve…”
Ignatius understands that in serving others, we are serving Christ Himself. Jesus told us as much in the story of the Last Judgment where He tells those who helped the poor that “Whenever you did it for one of these least ones, you did it for me.” (Matt 25:40). Honestly, know true generosity is wasted. The people to whom we give may not be grateful, but Christ-in-them is.
“To give and not count the cost…”
Have you ever been searching for a present for someone, find the perfect one, flip it over to check out the price tag, and upon seeing the price immediately pop it back on the shelf?
We’ve all been there. That’s because we are doing a cost benefit analysis regarding our gift-giving. And when it comes to material presents, perhaps this is appropriate. But Ignatius is challenging us not to think about this cost when it really matters. When I see someone on the street begging for money, do I think, “But I won’t be able to get that Big Mac I wanted?” That’s a small thing. But what about it large matters. Do I trust that God will provide if I am generous?
This is a true story: someone I know had a relative in desperate need. In a single day they needed a significant amount of cash. In order to help, the person who was asked needed to take all of their cash reserves and donate them immediately. Once this cash was given, this person would have no financial safety net. But they trusted in God and gave all that they had. And God took care of them. Within a short time, they received an unexpected financial windfall.
The other challenge that Ignatius gives is to not keep a record of your generosity. I am not talking about ignoring charitable donations for tax deductions. Instead, Ignatius is telling us that once something is given, let it be given completely. Let there be no sense of debt that we have in our hearts where we think God or others owe us anything. Let the gift be pure gift.
“To fight and not heed the wounds…”
Ignatius was a soldier. He understood what this meant. In battle, the soldier is generous with his courage and his strength. In my weakness, I often look for any excuse to get out of work. But Ignatius challenges us to keep going. If we decide to give to others, there will be those who will be ungrateful or upset. This can hurt, but Ignatius challenges us to ignore that pain and to keep going. This is not to ignore self-care. But we should not let our hurt feelings stop us from being generous.
“To toil and not seek for rest…”
As I have gotten older, I have gotten tired. The idea of a retirement where I sit on the couch all day and do nothing sound more and more appealing. Of course, that is not good for me, nor is it God’s plan. God wants us to spend this life being examples of His loving service. St. Mother Cabrini said that now is the time to do service and we should only cease when we are dead: “That’s why they call it eternal rest.” Now God did give us a sabbath so that we would not burn out, so He knows that we have limits that must be resepected. But if He gives us the strength, we must give Him our service for as long as He asks.
“To labor and seek no reward except that of knowing that I do your will…”
I love Christmas for many reasons, but one of my favorites is to see the joy in the eyes of those I love when I was able to find the perfect gift. I discovered gift-giving is one of my “love languages.” It isn’t so much about the material component, but it is a way to communicate to someone you understand them with a tangible token of that understanding. And when someone sees that they are seen and known, it brings them joy.
As much as I love this, I cannot make the happiness I receive into my motivation. I cannot chase after that Christmas joy. I must give whether or not the giving rewards me with good feelings. I cannot look to receive praise, gratitude, or thanks. I have to let generosity be its own reward.
The only reason to give is to do God’s will. And God’s will is love.
Love is generous. Love gives.
How much should I give? Someone asked CS Lewis this and he said, “Probably more than you are giving now.”
Our entire life, we must strive to the complete generosity of Christ. But we must start where we are. St. Paul said, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” You an only give what you have.
Since this is the season, think of the story of the Little Drummer Boy. He had nothing to give but his drum song. You may not have lots of disposable cash or tons of free time. But what do you have?
What do you have that you can give away as gift?
And can you be generous?
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson
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