So it’s that time of year friends. I know you’re not surprised. The decorations have been up in the city for weeks. Many of you have started your advent traditions…calendars, candles, maybe a few doing global advent.
It seems a particularly apt time for our group, Missing Peace, does it not? This seems to be a time of year where peace is hard to find. Its busy, and expensive! Parties, gifts, family gatherings, food preparations, and that’s all on top of our normal busy lives.
I see a counselor on a semi regular basis. I think of it as maintenance…like an oil change. Anyway, Dr. Baer calls this stage of life…the stage where we have small children, we’re making our forever friends, we’re solidifying careers….he calls it the “generative stage.” We are generating families, jobs, meaningful relationships…no wonder we are exhausted.
So where do we find peace? How can we feel that sense of calm that we’ve done a good days work. That we’ve accomplished what we ought to. That we are being who we are supposed to be. That we are giving what we are supposed to give. How do we access that calm, non-anxious, confidence?
I have this theory I’m working on. In my tests so far it works, but its open to more testing. I call it the giving theory. When you need something, give it. Say what? There are some obvious examples that I don’t think many would argue with…like friendship. If you need a good friend, be a good friend. Or love. If you need love give love. Where it gets a little sticky and tricky is with our stuff. It’s all well and good to apply the giving theory to our emotional or spiritual needs, but when it comes to physical things…well…that’s a whole different story, right?
What feels comfortable is to give from our excess. What feels fair is to give only when we feel like we have enough for ourselves first. It’s too risky to give something I might need later. And our culture takes it a step further and encourages us to give from what we don’t even have…put it on the card. Then we can look like we have it all. The american dream.
There is an alternative you know. There is another way for us to think about giving and gifting. I’m not saying I get this right all the time. A quick confession. Sometimes when Jeff is feeling particularly generous…i kind of balk. See, I’m pretty frugal…and sometimes…I feel like…maybe we shouldn’t spend or give that way. I convince myself by saying there might be some other, better cause to give to. But the truth is I wouldn’t seek it out. The truth is…sometimes…I don’t want to be generous. Sometimes I want to hold it back so I can have something. You know. Something I or my kids…deserve. After all I work hard, and so does Jeff. So we deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Way more than some anonymous tip or gift or whatever that no one will even really appreciate. Not the way I would appreciate a massage. Eww…I feel sick inside confessing it. But I’m pretty sure its true…and my guess is, I’m not the only one.
On Sunday nights I go to worship with a community, kinda like Missing Peace, in DeLand called Collective. Their pastor is Ben Collins…great guy, dynamic preacher….anyway he was talking about giving last week. He was saying that the perfect gift would be one we couldn’t be thanked for. A real gift would be something that we gave without any expectation of something in return. Like the way we give love to our family…we hope they love us in return, but that’s not why we love them. We just do…and they just do. That’s how giving, real giving should be.
But even then we often are rewarded for our gift. To give purely…its like we would not only have to not have the recipient know we gave, so we couldn’t be thanked, but we’d have to not know we gave the gift ourselves, so we couldn’t even get that good feeling as a reward. See often when we give we still get to feel good about it right. I’ve even said…that was good, that was the right thing to do after having given. And I get to live out my day feeling good about myself for what I did. So see, I still get something back.
It is impossible to escape the economy of giving. But John Caputo warns us: The impossibility of a pure gift is not an excuse not to give. When we give as truly as we are able, we widen the giving economy. We make space in a way. And we have to continue to live into truly giving, like truly loving, because it is so worth it. If you love because you have to, if you give because you have to, I’d rather you just not bother. Giving and loving that is externally compelled, that is an attempt to gain for ourselves, or that is an effort to by grace negates its purity, meaning, realness. It becomes a gift, love, God with an asterisk, a catch, fine print and creates distrust, damage, alienation. The real, true, meaningful, hopeful, loving, healing versions of giving, loving, God…there is no asterisk. There is no fine print. It’s pure, its real, its grace.
The point is…who you are, what you do, how you love, how you give…it’s your offering. It’s not to get something back…its a gift. Where we get tripped up is when we expect something back. When we think we deserve something back for our offering. Working, its a gift. Loving our families, its a gift. Waking, sleeping, living, its a gift. And if you can live into this…it will change your life.
I’m not saying its easy…people spend their whole lives cultivating a spirit of generosity and gratitude; surrendering outcomes and expectations, and separating from the economies of wanting something in return.
What if all of our giving could be that way? I’m going to challenge you right now. Get ready…I want each of us here to commit to a consistent gift. I won’t set parameters, I wont measure it, I won’t even know if you do it or not. I will ask, that you find a way to give regularly, to HUM, to Missing Peace, to a family in need…there are plenty of good recipients. But find someway to give in a consistent manner for the next 3 months of your life. That’s the challenge. I know it will be transformative. Not in a tit for tat way, not in a consumeristic way where you give this and get that…more like how we change when we are authentically loved…we’re shaped…we’re molded…its subtle and gentle…but we are no doubt altered forever.
Closing Poem by Whitney Wilkinson
May you find light
when you can’t even find your car keys
May you find hope
when it seems like a wild luxury
May you find peace
when it seems battle lines are
etched in stony hearts
May you find God coming
in quiet moments of joy
in hectic moments of stress
in second cups of coffee
in second chances to forgive
not just those you would call
but yourself, too
And may you rejoice that
God will not come in hatred
God will not come in fear
God will not come in despair
God will come in refugee vulnerability
needing a borrowed barn to birth
fragile, incarnate, relentless
into this weary world once more.