I would be so good at being rich. Truly, I would, if I were just given the chance. And I don’t mean billionaire rich, that’s ridiculous. Just a few million more than what I need to live on, reasonably comfortably of course, and the rest I would freely give away wherever there was need. No, really… I would!
I’m still waiting on this opportunity to prove myself. Looking forward to changing some lives with my wealth, and showing others what true generosity really looks like. I will be so good at this, I promise. Please, just give me a chance. Just make it so I don’t have to be the one who needs anymore. I’ve got that down. I can move on to other challenges. Like money. That’s a challenge I’m certain I can handle.
My undergraduate college experience was a time of particular spiritual growth for me. So as it came to a close, I began looking for a place to plug myself in that would continue to challenge and inspire me, while also providing a place for me to give, love, and follow Jesus. At the end of the summer following graduation, I moved to East L.A. to practice incarnational ministry with Servant Partners, an awesome organization filled with amazing people. You should look it up.
It was a 2 year internship. I would join 3 other new interns at my site, one of whom would be my roommate in my first apartment ever. It was exciting. And it was terrifying. I, an introvert in the purest sense of the word, would be moving into a one-bedroom apartment with a young woman I’d never met before, to build relationships with the strangers who would be my neighbors, and to find ways to serve and reach out to my adopted community. It was exhausting just thinking of all that social interaction. Looking back I find it hard to pinpoint the moment I lost my senses and agreed to do something so completely contrary to my most natural state of being: blissful solitude.
There was plenty to be anxious about when I made this move. And I was never one to allow potentially stress-inducing thoughts to slip by without offering them their fair share of worry. In the weeks leading up to that trip, it was a full-time job keeping up with all scenarios and possibilities that deserved to be fretted over. In all of this, though, there was one thing that didn’t worry me: Money.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that lack of money should probably be my greatest fear. I would be far from family and friends, and had not yet met my wealthy benefactor – still waiting on that. And though I had jobs all through college, I certainly had never yet worked to support myself fully. In my mind, though, it was simple enough. I would get a job. A full time job.
In fact, the issue of money was one of the most intriguing aspects of the internship. It was designed to provide us a very real experience of fellowship and community. We would be a financial community as well. Over the next two years, all our money would go into a single joint account. We would budget together, and each of us would be provided for out of that account, according to our individual needs. This wasn’t mandated, but it had been practiced by our other team members who had gone through the internship before us. It was our chance to experience the fellowship of believers as described of the early church in Acts. And I was excited to do this. I was going to be so good at it.
Except it didn’t turn out the way I expected. I didn’t get to be the supporter, the giver, the generous one. I was the one supported, the taker, the needy. It wasn’t so easy to get a job when I first arrived in L.A. And when I got one, it didn’t pay enough to cover even my meager expenses.
Those two years were hard. In many ways, and there are many stories. But money, or my lack of it, was perhaps my most constant challenge. I needed my friends’ help. I wanted so desperately not to. And I felt the weight of my need, the burden of me, every time money came up. Perhaps you’ve noticed, money comes up a lot.
I’d like to say this short phase of my life was instrumental in defining my own spirit of generosity. That I’m now a better giver because I know what it is to need. But I can’t say that with any real conviction. Probably because I haven’t crossed over to the other side yet, where I can stop needing things from people. I’m still aware of this part of me that believes, given the opportunity, I would be the best at generosity. I would totally win at selflessness. After all, I’m already such a pro at humility.
The problem with this attitude, and I think it’s a major one, is that while I’m daydreaming about my future as a great philanthropist, I’m choosing not to be present in my real situation. It’s hard to need people. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. You can’t say your thank you too quickly and eagerly, or it might seem like you expected it of them. You don’t want to be too solemn or self-deprecating, because likely you’ll come across insincere. And the more it’s required of you, the more times you have to say it, the more trite those words seem. Thank you? Can that ever be enough? Of course not. Best to escape the reality as quickly as possible and dream of better days ahead. A quick muttered platitude, lowered head, eyes downcast, and suddenly your thank you is an apology.
Gratitude is not a single feeling. It’s the word we use to cover a complex jumble of confused thoughts, often surrounding difficult events or times of hardship in our lives. It’s more action than emotion, more practice than prayer. And the words themselves are really saying: I need you. I need you. But gratitude was not meant to hold hands with shame.
It is good to be grateful. To appreciate those who care for us. To learn to receive graciously when it is our time to receive, and give graciously when it is our time to give. The beauty of the church in Acts was not that no one had need, but that they all met each other’s needs. They all felt responsible for each member, and gave what they had, knowing it was never really theirs anyway. True generosity of spirit will find ways to give, money or no.
One of the best gifts we can easily give each other is thanks. Because the most meaningful gifts can never be repaid, nor were they ever meant to be.