Who wants to join me going into this giving season... giving?
I've been toying with the idea of a toy-less Christmas. Essentially replacing indulging my privileged children with giving to underprivileged children. I wouldn't do this without their involvement. I don't want them to look back on this time with longing for things. That would certainly be contradictory to the whole point.
And the point is giving. And teaching that lifestyle to my children.
I'm not sure I can pinpoint when I learned to give. Many times I think I'm still in the trenches learning this essential lifestyle. Sure, I'm on board with giving. But usually after I get. Usually after we're blessed with an income, then we'll give tithe. If we can cover our needs and a couple wants, then we'll donate to a charity. After we receive our tax refund each spring, then we sponsor a little girl in India named Poojitha.
Sadly, we usually only give after we receive.
Maybe that pattern is not entirely a bad thing. The only way we're able to give anything of importance is by receiving the gift of Jesus Christ. The problem comes when we make our giving contingent on material gains. Jesus was not and is not material, so limiting our giving by what we can materially manage is limiting His power to work in our lives.
In Love Skip Jump Shelene Bryan says, "I believe too many Christians have been lulled, pacified, and numbed into the cradle of the modern 'easy life.' The effect of this has been that we don't need God. We don't really need Him to accomplish what we are doing."
That's certainly my problem. Lately we give 10% and not much more, because we don't have much more. We give through ourselves, not Jesus. We live on our limited power and possessions, not His power and provisions from the stores of His entire Kingdom. The result is that we take for ourselves first, and then we don't usually have anything leftover to give to others.
Many times over God has worked miracles with our finances. Lately, I've come to expect starting the month with an unbalanced budget. Unbalanced in the negatives, just to clarify. By the end of the month, He has worked miracles with our budget. Not always in visible ways, either. Even though I closely monitor our budget, I'm not usually able to pinpoint how we pay all our bills, buy our normal amounts of food, and end the month with a balanced budget. But it happens and I know it's by the power of Jesus and His provisions.
However, I don't believe Jesus blesses us simply for us to be blessed.
Is our balanced budget all He's after? Not really. If that were the case, then He's just buying us time until the new year when our monthly medical bills practically disappear along with His power. I believe He's doing more than just buying us time, because this story isn't really about us, it's about Him. Our budget miracles are for His glory.
And I think He really gets the glory when we give despite having nothing to give.
Giving from Him, not from ourselves.
This weekend a group of us discussed the "Profile of the Lukewarm" from the book Crazy Love. In this chapter, Francis Chan describes what lukewarm so-called Christians might do or what their lives might look like. Here are bits from 7 of the 18 statements that stuck out to me in regards to my sad giving habits.
- ...give money to charity and to the church if they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give. (1 Chron. 21:24, Luke 21:1-4)
- ...give Jesus only a section of their time, money, and thoughts. (Luke 9:57-62)
- ...love others, but typically focus on those who love them in return. (Luke 14:12-14)
- ...will serve God and others, but have limits to how far they will go. (Luke 18:21-25)
- ...are thankful for their luxuries and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. (Matt. 25:34, 40; Isa. 58:6-7)
- ...give/do whatever is necessary to keep from feeling too guilty. (1 Chron. 29:14; Matt. 13:44-46)
- ...structure their lives to not have to trust God. (Luke 12:16-21; Heb. 11)
This sort of thinking is natural to most of us and even rationalized. The truth of Jesus' call has certainly made me fidget. What about our bills and caring for our children? God doesn't really want me to be irresponsible with my finances, right?
He never called us to be irresponsible, but certainly made it clear we need to not fear and instead trust Him. And that is the goal this giving season and beyond.
Fear and trust Him. With our finances and with our giving.
The first time December was more about giving than what I'd receive for Christmas, was when I was around 10. There were 3 siblings my age and younger that sometimes showed up to church. The youngest not as much, because his heart condition often landed him in the hospital. It was clear that bathing was not a routine occurrence for them. And their toes often peeked through tattered shoes.
The time I knew something needed to be done was when one of the girls came to church during a Midwest winter with no coat and, after accidentally exposing herself, apparently no undergarments. I went home that day and asked my mom if I could give the girl my coat (I had recently upgraded to a Chiefs starter jacket handed down from my brother), and if we could buy them new socks and underwear.
She went with it and got other family involved too. By the time we visited their humble rundown home, we had a good-sized box for each child with coats, packages of undergarments, and even some toys. There was also a box of fresh citrus and other foods for the parents. The kids excitedly opened their packages as the parents looked on and smiled. They were hard to understand when they spoke even though their first language was English, but their gratitude was clear without words.
That is such a good memory to me, but I'm sad that so far it's only a memory.
It hasn't become habit. My own kids haven't experienced this sort of giving. Christmases haven't been more about others and their needs than it has been about us and our wants. Yet.
There is still time to change. And this season is as good a time as any.
I've got to be honest and tell you I don't exactly know where to start. I have a vision of where I want my life and our family to be in terms of giving, but the path there is a little unclear.
Here are some ideas I'm considering to take those first steps in giving...
1 | Donate on #GivingTuesday.This is a good follow-up to the "gimmes" of Black Friday and Cyber Monday; a reminder and opportunity to give. Learn more about Giving Tuesday >> here. We'll donate to a favorite charity (like Tiny Hands International) or a local shelter and make this season about more than ourselves.
2 | Limit internal giving.For the last couple years we've given the kids something to wear, something to read, and something to play with. Our budget for this is super low, and what we get usually fits pretty close to the "need" category. This year I'm wondering if we can skip the "something to play with" for a better 'cause like #3 below.
3 | Increase external giving.I'd like the kids to choose an underprivileged child of the same gender to buy a present for. We don't really have extra funds for this, so I feel this is more a priority than buying for ourselves (see #2 above). There are usually trees around town that have papers with a child's info and wish list. Shelters and such likely have a wish list, too.
4 | Buy from companies that give.Jen Hatmaker recently shared a list of such places. For instance, we buy our glasses from Warby Parker because they're designer quality for only $95 total, but they also donate a pair for each pair they sell. Check out Jen's list >> here for other companies that give back.
5 | Support fundraisers for a good cause.My daughter's first grade class is selling Krispy Kreme donuts to buy presents for children at our local shelter. We will definitely be buying a dozen (or two ;) of donuts to share with others, and help support this good cause.
6 | Donate all money earned December 1-25.We could certainly use the little bit of money earned here. For 25 days, however, we're going beyond the usual small giving and dedicating all of those earnings to the lives of others. For any sales of Simplicity vs., or any commissions earned from Warber Parker and PicMonkey affiliate links these 25 days, 100% of proceeds will go to Tiny Hands International. They rescue girls in danger of being trafficked in Nepal and surrounding areas. I wear my One Girl bracelet often, and appreciate the reminder to take these serious scenarios and the name of a specific girl to Jesus in prayer.
There is so much more that could be done, and so much more I'd like to do. This is a small start that I hope ripples into a year-round giving habit. Most of all, I hope to pass on a heritage of selfless giving to my children.