“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” -Dorothy Day
Does your giving change the world? Does it change you? These are the questions we’ve been asking as part of our discussion of transformative giving—generosity that is intentional, connected, and sacrificial. In our second post on this concept, we talked about giving characterized by intentionality, but what does it look like to give sacrificially?
Sacrificial giving, in our view, means generosity that manifests our belief in God – giving that, as Dorothy Day tells us, would not make sense if God didn’t exist. It means giving that affects us, that transforms us and our lifestyles to reflect Christ. When we give sacrificially, like the widow Jesus extolled who “gave all she had” (Mark 12:41-44), we have to relinquish something that we want or need for ourselves.
The difficulty is the fear that comes along with sacrificial generosity. For many growing up in the United States, that fear is a product of long-term conditioning. We are taught the value of scarce resources, and that we have to compete to ensure our own security. As Walter Brueggemann laments in “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” “We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity–a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.”
We feel that we are walking a tenuous line between responsibility and the freedom of generosity. We must provide for our children, we must protect ourselves against emergencies, we must ensure we have enough to retire. And all of these concerns are undoubtedly valid, particularly in a society dominated by mindless consumption and crushing debt. But the fear pushes us to save more and more to insulate ourselves from catastrophes that, frankly, we can never plan for.
One woman recently told me a giving story about the power of fear. She and her husband had a decent amount of savings and a need came up for a person in her community, a fairly large financial need. The couple felt moved to respond, but were overcome with fear about what their generosity would do to their savings. They went forward with the gift, and an interesting thing happened: once the money left their account, the fear went away. They still had savings, they almost didn’t notice the change. We are so conditioned to scarcity, we have trouble recognizing what is enough.
The truth of the Christian faith is that God’s economy is one of abundance. Choosing that view instead of giving in to the fear of scarcity then becomes a spiritual discipline, a call of faith. We act out that discipline by practicing sacrificial generosity of every kind, and then by sitting with God to ask to be renewed and provided for.
One critical piece is missing here—the idea that the call to sacrificial giving is also a call to build community, in many forms. God’s provision for us is often through the generosity of people. When we are generous, we are acting in relationship with others. And one safety net of sacrificial giving is a reliance on the generosity of those around us, sometimes those to whom we have already given, sometimes not. As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove notes, “God’s economy comes to us as a community of friendship…God invites us into the abundance of eternal life through economic relationships with other people.”* But we have to make the choice to seek out and contribute to that community through our own generosity.
In the journey of following Jesus with our money, then, how can we take one step to give more sacrificially, until we feel it?
How can we practice turning our minds away from scarcity and toward God’s abundance?