Six tips for developing a generous heart
Let’s start with how, in late 16th-century France, a Latin word slid into a French term.
Stick with me now.
Maybe we tend to fiddle with the word “generous” — as in “developing a generous heart” — and like to get away with what we’re already doing. Just scratch it off the old to-do list.
Back in old-timey Roman days, “genus, generis” referred to lineage. It meant “your people.”
In the late 1500s, the French started to use the word to mean noble or magnanimous. Certainly, if you were of the nobility were you not, by your very birth, extremely benevolent and forgiving when it came to the many who were below your station in life? Mais bien sûr! But of course! Oui, oui, oui all the way home to your palace.
What does this mean to a 21st-century Catholic concerned with having a generous heart? This: You’re called to be generous, to serve others, to share with others. Magnanimously. And you’re a child of God and brother or sister of Christ the King.
You’re pretty much boxed in here.
No need to panic. It well may be you’re better at this generosity business than you give yourself credit for, and — with just a little bit more effort here and a touch more thoughtfulness there — you can start to excel.
How to be generous
With that in mind, here are some tips:
1. It can help to think of increasing your generosity as “virtue cardio.” As you know, your heart is a muscle. The more you use it and wisely push it, the stronger and more efficient it becomes.
With the muscle, it’s walking, jogging, elliptical and all the rest. Most simply put, it’s getting off the sofa and moving.
With the virtue, it’s sharing, giving and praying for and with others. Just as you know how to make the muscle stronger, so, too, it is with the virtue. With both (and here’s the troubling news) it takes some effort, some planning, some saying “no” to self or selfishness and “yes” to a much, much greater good.
One has benefits from here to the grave, the other from here to far, far beyond the grave.
2. As with so many changes or resolutions, while well-intentioned, it’s easy to quickly slide from feeling all get-up and gung-ho to battered and burned out.
No, you can’t claim, “Oh, man, last week I really strained my virtue. I need to take it easy for a while.” But maybe this scenario has a familiar ring to it. Someone works really hard doing everything possible to help people and, in the end, most of them turn on him. (For an example, check out Matthew, Mark, Luke or John’s writings on the supremely generous Jesus.)
The point is: Your generosity may not be met with open arms.
But that’s not an excuse to stop being a giving person. And, this is really tough. (Also, it’s not an excuse to stop forgiving.)
The point is that the best forms of generosity are longtime, lifetime commitments.
3. This isn’t to say you pick one way of being charitable and you’re stuck with it. How you can be generous as a teen may be different from how you can be generous in your (much) later years.
Your generosity may be different in specific circumstances but the same in the big picture. The giving of time is the giving of time. A financial donation is a financial donation. Love is love. And so on.
In your teens, that may mean how you behave and interact with a grandparent. In your 80s, it’s how you behave and interact with a grandchild.
Different, but the same.
And at every age, God is offering you ways to be generous. A veritable smorgasbord of choices — if you pay attention. You must think and pray about it and look around at where you are. Right here, right now.
Why did God lead you to this place, this time, these circumstances? One reason is to give you specific opportunities for you to become more like him — to become more loving by helping others, whom he loves just as dearly as he loves you.
4. Getting a little more … let’s say practical, but that word isn’t quite right. A little more down-to-earth on this heavenly behavior. A little more personal.
Sometimes generosity can be easier if the recipient is similar to us or faces a hardship we’ve faced. Maybe the homeless. Those who have lost a child. The unemployed.
In God’s infinite wisdom, our own heartaches can help us open our hearts to others. Each person’s journey is unique, but we have a better idea of what someone is dealing with if we’ve been dealt the same hand.
Then, too, if we look at our own gifts (teaching, music, mentoring a teen, organizing, fundraising, attending l-o-n-g meetings, and so on), we can apply them where they’re lacking in our family, community or parish. (God bless the parish council members who sit through those meetings.)
5. And, of course, when it comes to generosity, our manner matters.
Don’t be a “LOOK! AT! ME!” donor or volunteer. Jesus was clear on that:
“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:2-4).
6. And, a final point, a little tip. Notice the relationship between gratitude and generosity. The more you’re thankful for all you have, the more you’re moved to share it with others. The more you share with others, the more you realize how much you have and need to be grateful for.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.
|Avoiding Pride and Irritability When Giving|
|Here are a couple of adages we’d all like to see stitched on a sampler:“God loves a cheerful giver, but nobody likes a generous jerk.”
“Give till it hurts, but not so much you become a pain in the neck.”
Ah, yes. You’ve met them and, perhaps a time or two, spotted one looking back at you in the mirror. (Who? Me?)
It’s not so much the dark side of generosity as the snarky side. (“Snarky” meaning cranky and irritable.) It’s that cheerful donor smiling with clenched teeth. It’s the giving so much of ourselves to others out there that those closest to us get the short end of the stick when it comes to our time, our concern, our patience. We give, and those who love us get hurt.
Not a good plan.
In other cases, we give (and give and give) and, what do you know, as a major donor or faithful volunteer we start to get a little power and influence. Such sweet, sweet temptations. So, often with little self-awareness, we parlay each into a little more of the same.
We fall right into to the trap of “whoever gives the most money or time knows best.”
None of this is to say that many dioceses, parishes and organizations don’t need big donors and those willing to spend a lot of time helping. Of course they do. Bless them all. But, it seems safe to speculate, the Lord loves a humble giver.
Someone like, well, the Lord himself. Meek and humble of heart, he gave us himself in the Eucharist and on the cross. He gave us our salvation.
He also gave us a suggestion, a command, just before his comment on his meekness and humility: “learn from me” (Mt 11:29).
Learn how to give for the right reasons, and in the right way.