12 September 2016
The fifth in a six part series by Alice Bond
Of the many things which have shocked me in the last few years, the three that stand out most clearly in my memory were all simple acts of generosity.
The first one was definitely back in the day (in my 20s). I was invited to a party where it was a given that we would bring some minor contribution of food and / or drink. Now usually my approach to such an occasion was – bring as little as possible / try and get away in bringing nothing at all so as to ‘get’ out of the party more than I ‘give’. After all, the hosts have chosen to throw a party: they should be the ones to come up with the goods. There is definitely such a thing as a free lunch I would regularly reason.
I cannot for the life of me remember what I contributed ( probably nothing) but I was completely blown away by Annie, another (only slightly older) party-goer (who, for this sort of reason, became not only a precious friend, but also an inspiration). Annie’s contribution was a large fresh baguette and a massive round camembert. Now even in those days I understood that it was probably socially appropriate the older one became to bring something of substance. But certainly not something bigger than would be personally consumed. And CERTAINLY not, therefore, something delicious, which someone else would consume. I was genuinely confounded.
The second occasion was in one of our regular visits to my in-laws. My wonderful sister-in-law Madeline was staying there too. One afternoon she not only cleaned the inside of her car, but also the two other cars (one of which was our car) which happened to be on the drive. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I found it virtually impossible in those days to dig deep enough for a vision to clean our own car, which we would receive the benefit of, but to clean other peoples? It made no sense to me. Curious, I asked her why she did it. Well, I was out there cleaning mine anyway, so it just made sense to clean any others which needed cleaning. She explained, shrugging her shoulders, as if what she had done was the most normal thing in the world.
I like to think there are two forms of logic in the world: demon logic and divine logic. Her logic made as little sense to me, as my logic (the demonic kind) meant to her. Why would you spend your time, energy and hard work doing something practical and, well, boring, for someone else with no reward, beyond possibly a sense of satisfaction at a job well done, a heartfelt (but let’s face it, cost-free) thank you, and possibly a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I knew about the five love languages – one of which was acts of service (the one I didn’t express my love through very often) but, quite frankly, that still didn’t cut the mustard. There was seemingly no ulterior motive. Especially when one could spend one’s time… chilling out.
Ahhhh. A warm fuzzy feeling. Was there something in that perhaps? I once read an article in a newspaper about a warm fuzzy feeling when one is generous to charity…
There was also a third occasion when a friend Clare completely redecorated the aforesaid Annie’s large kitchen, just before Clare was due to leave and live in America. Never one to withhold surprise, I asked her why she did it. She always liked to leave a place in a better state than she found it. She liked to leave a blessing. She explained, smiling, getting on with the job. It felt like she had introduced me to another language – something like Italian. Beautiful, but entirely incomprehensible.
Anyway, it transpired that we then had three children and I am not sure how it happened exactly but something changed in me. Maybe it was through those years of practical hard work with very little instant reward. Maybe it was through the influence of my husband and these, and many, incredibly generous friends. Maybe it was through facing deep, tormenting childhood fears of abandonment, and the ensuing ‘every one for themselves’ mentality. (And having those fears gently removed and replaced by a touch of the vast goodness of God). I don’t know – probably a combination of all of the above.
All I know is that the lights went on. I realised I was designed to be a contributor, not a consumer.
Wow! If this really is a superior logic, I thought. I am going to test it. I decided as a sort of experiment to take seriously Jesus’ words about giving generously and see what happened. I started to consider in any and every situation – how could I leave a person more blessed than when I met them, or a place in a better state than when I found it or an event where I could bring more than I could foresee receiving. In another words I decided to live with a continual consciousness of how I could ‘give’ rather than how I could ‘get’.
Well, blow me down with a feather. Every time I stepped up and contributed, I felt more empowered, more alive, more of that warm fuzzy feeling, than I had ever felt (back in the day) when I would spend most of my energies trying to get something ‘for free’.
It was all true after all. It was something to do with feeling re-connected to God as my heavenly Father who really, really loves me, and, therefore, not having to worry about how my needs were going to be met or feel the need to protect myself anymore.
I had recovered my design as one of the billions of human conduits of His immense, overflowing, generous heart. And the funny thing was that I began to notice that whenever I gave in the smallest of ways I felt like I was receiving a hundred times in return for what I was giving. And in such surprising, spontaneous, deeply personal ways. The sort of ways where I knew that I knew that I knew that I was known, by Him. I understand you now Annie, Madeline and Clare. I was definitely colluding with the dark side. But now, you would be pleased to know, I have turned to the light. It really is more blessed to give than receive.
‘Give and it will be given to you. Shaken down. Fully pressed. A measure poured out and overflowing into your lap’. Jesus. AD 30.
(PS. Incidentally, it transpires that God was right there, loving me, all along.)