This is a familiar maxim that is generally accepted and experienced as such. More and more research findings confirm the health and psychological benefits of giving and helping behavior. In a recent article about the practice of tithing on USAToday.com (http://usat.ly/rS7cxG), Laura Vanderkam writes, New insights from happiness research suggest that tithing could benefit the giver too, even if you don’t believe it’s a religious obligation. Indeed, given how much money people spend pursuing happiness, tithing might be a relative bargain.
When we reflect upon the memory of a time when we gave a gift that made a difference in another’s life, positive feelings wash over us. True generosity has the power to transform the lives of the receiver and the giver.
At a recent gathering of congregation leaders, a question was posed to the group for personal reflection sharing. The entire mood of the room lifted and deepened with heart-warming emotion as each shared his or her story.
Have you ever given a gift that changed you?
Immediately my thoughts go to when I was about six years old. Our family planned to bring some gifts and outgrown clothing to a poor family in the nearby city. My parents talked with us about the opportunity to give and engaged us in the process. My brothers and I found some story books, toys, and clothes we could give away. We helped our mom buy some new items the family needed and wrapped them in Christmas paper. On the delivery day, my parents drove us all into the city and brought the gifts to the site where the gifts would be distributed. That was my first memory of giving with intention to help another family I may never meet. I remember the excitement at the prospect of bringing a smile to another child’s face. It was a very empowering that kindled the spirit of generosity in my young psyche that has stayed with me and grown throughout my life.
Ramon Urbano remembers how his parents give him the gift of generosity as well. “At Christmas time my Mexican parents would take me to Mexico to visit relatives,” says Ramon. “While we did not have much, we would pack the car to the brim in the trunk, the back seat and floor around me with clothes, blankets and other necessities collected from friends and family. We would cross the border and find a poor section of town and distribute what we had to people in such tremendous need. This was after my mother’s relentless arguing with the border officers that were not selling the items and we would not tip them for the privilege!
“This was a tradition I carried on later.” Ramon continues. “I worked for an international company with offices throughout Latin America that I visited periodically. Before my trips I gathered clothes and shoes from friends at church, work, and family and pack them in an Army duffle bag. I contacted the secretaries at the offices I would be visiting to let them know I had items for them to give to needy families they may know. All I asked was for them to give me back the duffle bag for me to fill up for the next return trip.” Ramon offers a summarizing insight. “This simple gift of giving changed me. I became aware of the importance of generosity.”
Jim Magill recalls a time as a young adult living in a “hippie community.” He was aware of a young mother in the community, pregnant with her second child and needing a new start. Somehow Jim managed to scrape together the money to buy the young woman an airplane ticket to Florida, where she planned a new life for herself and her children. He wonders every now and then how things have gone for the family. Jim feels deep down his gift made a difference.
Multigenerational communities offer opportunities for all ages to experience the beneficial effects of generosity. Professional musician and Kindermusik educator Beth Magill engaged her Kindermusik families in giving one holiday season. One family was struggling and needed help from their wider community. Beth and the other families enthusiastically rose to the occasion, contributing money for heating oil, arranging for car repairs, and collecting food and other necessities. The families’ commitment to one another was deepened and transformed through their caring concern and giving.
When the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee poured water on top of communities already soaked by remnants of Irene resulting in devastating flooding earlier this fall, nearby congregations responded with great generosity and mutual support.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton, New York had about four feet of water that flooded a Sunday School room and devastated the room used by a Nursery School. 12 – 15 families in the congregation were severely affected. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin had water in the basement with damage to stored items. The Shesequin building has storm damage that has yet to be assessed. Both congregations are accumulating significant costs for professional clean up and repairs.
Both the Athens and the Binghamton Churches have and are continuing to generously serve their communities as they attempt to recover from the devastating floods. The Binghamton congregation collected and is distributing furnishings to families who lost much or all of their personal belongings, and the Athens congregation provided food at the church for two weeks after the flood and continues to deliver food to the devastated community as it tries to clean up and rebuild. (http://www.ohiomeadville.org/challight/currentclcall )
May this season of generosity bring you meaningful opportunities for transformation through giving and receiving the myriad gifts life has to offer.