Generosity as a Spiritual Practice

–By Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes

It’s the time of year when we hear a lot about giving.   There are many appeals for donations of canned food, toys, and money (just in time for a tax deduction!)  Some friends and I were recently debating this concept of giving, specifically which is more valuable: the act of giving versus meeting a legitimate need with our gift. 

Our conversations began because of the shoe boxes.  You may have heard of them- the Operation Christmas Child program that asks individuals and families to fill a shoe box with items a child might enjoy: socks, toothpaste, soap, small toys and candy.  These boxes are then piled up on pallets and shipped overseas to be distributed to needy children living in third world poverty. 

It all sounds well and good, but there are some major flaws in the distribution of these boxes and I personally question whether the $30 (approximate cost of filling a box) would be better sent to an organization that provides more direct help: clean water, mosquito nets, vaccines, education.  I mean, do children living in third world poverty really need match box cars and chewing gum from America? 

One of my friends suggested that it is not really about the needs in the foreign countries, but these boxes provide a way for her to teach her children about giving.  The act of considering a child in need someplace else provides a valuable lesson.  Maybe so?   

For me, giving needs to be about both:  the act of giving AND meeting a legitimate need for another. I think it also is about self-sacrifice.  Am I really giving if the gift doesn’t truly cost me anything? This makes giving a challenge because it requires something significant of me both in terms of sacrifice and having a relationship with the person or organization receiving the gift.  

Jesus had something to say about giving in Luke 21:1-4 in the story of the Widow’s Two Mites 

“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” 

This passage seems to say more about the giver and the sacrifice of the gift than about the need the gift is meeting, so there may be something to that idea that giving is more about the act of giving vs the need.  I still argue that both need to be a consideration.  I can teach my children to consider others and to give by having them use their own money to purchase the food they want to donate the food drive at their school.  We can spend some time as a family learning about the real needs of children living in poverty around the world and they can choose a cause that feels significant to them with an organization that is fiscally responsible.   

What do you think about giving?  Does it matter if the gift is truly a sacrifice?   

Should a gift meet a real felt need in another or is the act of giving enough regardless of need? People give me birthday gifts and I don’t need one thing.   

So, what is significant about gift giving? 

About this month’s Big Words

 In one way or another, every major religion recognizes the value of kindness in its various forms: generosity, charity, compassion and consideration. We all often overlook chances to be generous with one another, to be friendly to those who need a friend and to be supportive to those who need support, yet both ancient spiritual teachings and contemporary psychology tell us of the importance of generosity to spiritual and emotional well-being. 

This month’s Big Words will explore the spiritual side of generosity with guest speaker Nestor de Armas.  A retired executive, past president of Stetson’s alumni association and longtime supporter of the university, de Armas will talk about his experiences with the spiritual value of generosity.  

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosts Big Words monthly. Each event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept of importance in many different religious and spiritual traditions.  Big Words: GIVE is Tuesday, November 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Rinker Welcome Center. Dinner will be provided, and Cultural Credit is available.