Give Until It Feels Good!

by Father Maurice J Nutt, C. Ss.R.

Most of us have heard the expression “give until it hurts.” This plea is based on the fact that most of us give from our excess; we give by skimming off the top. Most of us give at a level at which we really do not miss very much of what we give. By and large we give what is known as our spare change. One Sunday morning our parish was taking up a collection during Mass for some foreign missionaries. I heard one woman say, “Good, I can get rid of some of this change in my purse.” A number of us are still giving to the Lord that which essentially costs us little or nothing.

The word stewardship refers to the Catholic approach to the gifts God has bestowed on us. Stewardship is living out a commitment to be Christ-centered rather than self-centered. Profound gratitude, justice, and love become the fundamental motives for giving back to God. Everything that God has given us is intended to serve the divine plan. In the Christian sense, a steward is the manager of the affairs of God here on earth. God has made each of us a steward and has given us unique abilities and talents. We should use these abilities and talents to serve God. Therefore, our life is to be lived in gratitude toward God. In a variety of ways we, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, share our time, talent, and treasure to build up the Church and make our world a better place.

Stewardship was instilled in me as a family value for as long as I can remember. My mother, a widow sustaining a family of four boys on a limited income, made preparing her church envelop and putting it in her purse lest she forget it a Saturday-evening ritual. Even when times were financially difficult for our family, my mother remained faithful and constant in her “giving back to God.” I recall one instance when I received a special reward from my parish for being named Altar Server of the Year, which included a gift of one hundred dollars. As a nine-year-old child, I thought I was rich! My mother used half of the reward money to buy me a new pair of church shoes, and the following Sunday she made me personally put the other half in the collection basket. Talk about a painful lesson in stewardship, but nevertheless one that I have never forgotten!

We are called to a Christ-centered attitude rather than a self-centered attitude toward giving not only in terms of the monetary offerings we bring to the church but to other kinds of gifts as well. When a community is hit by a severe storm, tornado, or hurricane, when a family is burned out, or when a general appeal is made to help the needy, observe the kinds of contributions some people make. Some people look on appeals for clothes as an opportunity to get rid of all the junk in their closets, attics, or basements. Some persons give clothes that are so dirty and greasy they will never come clean or so ragged that no one could possibly wear them. Giving clothes that are good but a little out of style is one thing; giving away something that is good because our taste has changed is one thing; giving away something that is good but that we’ve outgrown is one thing—especially when we know we’ll never wear that size again in this life! Giving away clothes that are ragged and badly worn is another matter.

Some of us give away food in the same manner. If we don’t want to eat food with an expired date, what makes us think the less fortunate want it? When many of us donate food, we reach to the back of the cabinet or the  bottom of the pantry and give something we don’t want or like.

Some of us volunteer our services in the same way. We accept only those responsibilities that we can discharge in our spare time. We avoid anything that requires some serious time and attention. A number of persons will not do anything that requires serious commitment.

There is another level of giving known as sacrificial giving. Giving at this level makes a dent in our pocketbooks, time, or resources. At this level we give not from our reserves but from our operating capital. Thus people are encouraged to dig down deep and “give until it hurts.” I have a problem with this expression, however, because some of us don’t give very much before we start hurting! Some of us start hurting after giving two or three dollars, no matter how much abundance we may have. Some of us start hurting after giving five dollars. Others of us begin hurting after giving ten or twenty dollars. Some of us don’t have to give anything to hurt; we start hurting when the very subject of giving is brought up! It hurts so much for some of us to give that even if we have something we have not used in years, and the probability is great that we will never use it again, we would still prefer to hold on to it, allowing it to sit in a trunk and collect dust rather than give it to someone who can use it. It hurts some of us so much to give that we would rather let good clothes dry-rot, mildew, and become moth-eaten than give them away. It hurts some of us so much to give that we would rather let food sit in our freezers and on our shelves and go bad than give it to those who are less fortunate.

Our goal should not be to give until it hurts, but to give until it feels good. As the words of Scripture remind us, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

In order to be able to give until it feels good, let us be clear about what Paul said and what he didn’t say. Paul wrote, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind.” He did not write, “Each of you must give as your neighbor gives.” Nothing can rob us of the joy of giving as quickly as comparing our gift to our neighbor’s. We can give the best we can and feel good about it, but then we start comparing our gift with that of others. If others give much more than we do, if we are not careful, we will begin to feel ashamed and despise our gift. Once we lose the joy of giving, we may not even do what we can. We will say, “Why should I give? My little won’t be missed.”

However, we must never allow anyone to cheapen our gifts, including ourselves. When we read the Scriptures, we observe that Jesus never cheapened anyone’s gift, no matter how little or how much it was. When he wanted to feed five thousand, a little boy brought him a lunch of two fish and five barley loaves. Some asked, “What is that among so many?” Jesus, however, accepted the gift, gave thanks for it, and fed the multitudes. When a woman anointed Jesus with an alabaster flask of expensive ointment, some cheapened the gift and called it a waste. Jesus, however, accepted the gift and declared that whenever the gospel was preached, her gift would be talked about. There were those who would have cheapened the widow’s two mites, but Jesus declared that because she had given her all, she had given more than all the rest. “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

It is important for us to remember that we can’t give out of someone else’s pocketbook. Others may be able to do better, but until they allow the Lord to speak to their hearts and the Spirit to move them, there’s nothing we can do about it. So it makes no sense to frustrate ourselves by allowing someone else’s cheapness to take the joy out of our generosity. We know how good God has been to us. We know how God has blessed us. We know how God has kept his word to us. Therefore we give because we have received from God, regardless of what others do. To keep the joy of giving we must not play the comparison game. “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

It feels good when we give what we have. That’s why tithing feels so good—because it is not based on any specific predetermined amount. It is based on what we have. If my income is one hundred dollars and I give ten, or if my allowance is fifty cents and I give a nickel, then I have given as much proportionately as the person whose income is one thousand dollars and he puts in one hundred. I need not feel inferior because of my ten dollars or nickel, and the person who gives one hundred dollars has no right to feel superior, for that person has given no more based on his or her income than I have based on mine. As a matter of fact, the person who gives much is simply following Scripture: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Lk 12:48). Therefore, before we complain about having to give much, maybe we ought to think about the fact that we’ve received much—for we couldn’t give it if we hadn’t received it.

Paul wrote, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” He did not say, “Each of you must give based on your bills and expenses.” Making a decision to tithe or give more based on bills or obligations is like trying to walk on water by looking at the wind and the waves. Peter discovered that he could not walk steadily through a storm; he could not walk on water by looking at the wind and the waves. The only way he could walk on water through the storm was by looking at Jesus. Looking at Jesus didn’t make the storm disappear. Looking at Jesus didn’t make the winds subside and the rolling billows cease. Looking at Jesus helped Peter keep firm and sure footing in the midst of the storm. Looking at Jesus meant that Peter would not sink.

If we looked at our obligations, a number of us would not give at all, let alone tithe. A number of us are already on the verge of sinking. Trying to make ends meet is a very delicate balancing act for most of us. It’s like trying to find a firm footing in the midst of a stormy sea. To tithe does not mean that one has forgotten about the storm. Those who tithe have not forgotten about their bills. To tithe doesn’t mean that our bills will automatically disappear. Those who tithe simply understand that there is another Power at work in the midst of life’s storms. Winds and waves obey God’s will. In other words, God is able to provide for us through life’s financial storms. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring in terms of stormy weather. We don’t know how turbulent the seas will yet become. But this we know—if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will not sink. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, no rolling wave can take us under, and no strong wind can blow us over.

Paul wrote, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” He did not write, “Each of you must give according to your pocketbook.” We cannot give solely on the resources we see. As God’s children we must never forget that we have unseen resources. As a matter of fact, our unseen resources are greater than those we can see. Paul wrote: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:17–18).

Bills that we see are “slight afflictions” that soon pass away. We make one and work to pay it off so that we can make others. And the process continues. The money that we see is temporary and will soon pass away. It doesn’t stay with us forever. We make it to spend it. Money comes and goes, but God’s unseen power stays with us. We have resources unseen: “The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27, New International Version). Money comes and goes, but the unseen presence of Christ never leaves us. We have resources unseen, for Jesus has promised never to leave us alone. Money comes and goes, but the unseen power of the Holy Spirit is eternal. We have resources unseen. That’s the only way some of us have made it: we’ve had unseen resources.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving out of a sense of comparison or competition doesn’t feel good because that kind of giving comes from the ego. Giving by looking at our bills or resources doesn’t feel good because that kind of giving comes from the head. Giving grudgingly doesn’t feel good because it’s done sparingly. Necessity giving doesn’t feel good because it’s done out of fear. Giving feels good only when it comes from the heart. True giving is not simply a matter of the pocketbook; it’s a matter of the heart. Giving from the heart is cheerful giving. Giving from the heart is the giving of love. And it feels good to love. That’s why God loves the cheerful giver—because such is the giving of love. Not only does God love the cheerful giver, but the cheerful giver loves God.

Some of us enjoy giving because when we think about how good God has been to us, great is our love. That’s why we sacrifice and give even when we can’t afford to—great is our love. That’s why we continue to serve even when our work goes unrecognized and unappreciated—great is our love. That’s why we go on giving even when we’re talked about and criticized—great is our love. When we think about how far the Lord has brought us—great is our love. When we think about the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary—great is our love.

Stewardship is an expression of discipleship, with the power to change how we understand and live out our lives. Disciples who practice stewardship recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, the source of all they have and are and will be. They are deeply aware of the truth that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps 24:1). They know themselves to be recipients and caretakers of God’s many gifts. They are grateful for what they have received and eager to cultivate their gifts out of love for God and one another. Therefore, let us give not until it hurts; let us give until it feels good—real good!