Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Life, Generously - A Primer for the Holidays and Beyond

We picked up that little tree on our way home from church on Sunday. The kids decorated it Monday, chattering about gifts and wrapping paper and secrets. It's the second week of Advent and we're all leaning in. It's a lovely thing.

With the shopping catalogs this time of year, the giving catalogs begin showing up too. Samaritan's Purse, Compassion International - these are some of my kids' favorite "look books" this time of year. Page after page filled with images of bright eyed children from far flung countries of the world beckon us into a different thought process. Is there space in our life for generosity? What does that look like for a family like ours, with little extras?

Generosity isn't all about tangible gifts, lavish monetary donations. Generosity was never meant to be relegated to a certain time of year in anticipation of tax season right behind. Each and every day we are called to live generously. In some ways, by comparison, buying a family a goat costs us much less. My kids exclaim over the cute animals in the pictures while I think about generosity. Long after we select one, how can I live generously?

Be generous...with your time.

Busyness is so prevalent in our society and even here in our little home, I get swept up. Especially at this time of year. I simply don't have time to do it all, to be all. Honestly? It kinda rips at my joy. I confessed my sister as we drove home from shopping through the fog, "Sometimes Christmas feels like just one more thing set on top of all the other things I need to do. And it feels a lot like a job." That right there is a self inflicted burden. Generosity of time means being content with what and who God has set in your life for this moment. It means yes, you DO have time to make dinner for that family who just had a baby, or to sit a little bit longer with a sibling, or to take a phone call from an old friend in need of encouragement. Be generous with your time and you'll wind up so blessed.

Be generous...with your attitude.

My husband attempted to put lights on the tree this year. An hour or so later I came down to see how he was getting along and let's just say...it wasn't how I would have done it. I wish I could say I reacted generously, but I really didn't. I certainly alluded to his way being wrong, maybe even the worst idea ever. I took over (to his apparent relief) and finished it myself...but afterward I felt a prickle of regret much sharper than those pine needles stabbing at my hands. Is it so hard to be kind? Does it cost my anything to keep my annoyance under wraps? What is gained by showing your displeasure at small, insignificant things? Be generous with your attitude, kind and encouraging.

Be generous...with your prayers.

A few weeks ago at church, we had a sermon about prayer which, I will admit, is one of my weaker areas of loving people. How often do I say "I'm praying for you!" and then not really know what to say? But I want to be generous - constant - in prayer for the people who enter my life. Today a friend messages me for a knitting pattern and tells me about the 7 year old she's creating for - a precious little one with cancer. And I ask for her name and right then and there set her before God, pray his strength and light all around her. I don't give Him a list of the fixes I want - but I just set her just there and let His presence engulf her. It's not up to me to know what to pray for. When I'm freed from that, I can be all the more generous with prayer. (pray with me? For a precious little child losing her hair to chemo at Christmas?)

Be generous...with your love.

Ever since my best friend moved this Fall, I've felt a little catch in my heart when beginning to get close to others. Like a little warning sign. "Don't get too close! Don't get too involved! Danger! You might get hurt!" I know that these feelings, while certainly understandable, fly in the face of how life is meant to be lived. Generously. There is no relationship that brings with it the guarantee of being forever pain free. Love anyway. Love is not self seeking - or self preserving. Love is self giving. The greatest example of this is of course Jesus, who loved His way all the way through death and back. Be recklessly generous in how you love others.

Be generous...with your joy.

There are always conversations swirling around in mothering circles about how much to share with others. Do we tell just the good stuff and risk making others think we have it all together? Or do we pile on the dirt to remind each other "I'm just like you!" and run the risk of being overly negative and ungrateful? I think the answer is somewhat simple when you acquaint yourself with what joy is...and what it is not. Joy is not present only in the perfect. Joy can be found in all things when you live with hope, grounded in grace. It balances the "real life" stuff and the "Pollyanna" stuff perfectly. With joy, I can share apprehension at a new struggle while magnifying the great gift of the opportunity to cling more closely to God. With joy, I can share the mess the toddlers made while acknowledging that even on the most exhausting days, God is all good and we are all loved. Joy is contagious and desperately needed in this world. It's the witness of our joy filled lives that showcases the upside down, miraculous message of God's great grace, rich love, endless comfort. Be generous with your joy.

Being generous requires us to live wholly dependent on God for all of our needs - emotional, physical, spiritual. It's a practice that will take a life time of daily intention to incorporate, but one I hope to continue chiseling at, day after day after day.

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