Something was amiss. It troubled me to find myself somehow taking part in the conversations going on about how unaffordable a weekly donation to the poor was going to be, and how unrealistic buying a ‘royal’ gift for someone not necessarily in the close circle of friends was. Nearly everyone I talked to recounted issue after issue, and gave excuse after excuse why it was so difficult to find cash to give at this particular point in the year. I was able to relate to that. I too, was going through a season of financial challenges because of my elderly mother who was bedridden in hospital for several weeks. I was quite anxious about the outstanding hospital bill and yet here I was being asked to become intentional about giving.
I was hardly the kind of person any one could call mean or miserly. In fact on a number of occasions, my friends called me generous, a description I took pleasure in. But who wouldn’t? Whenever I had money I gave substantially. I gave to family and friends, schools and churches, weddings and funerals, charities and fund raisings, and right down to the trendy showers that the socialites were holding for a myriad of reasons. I was the proud owner of a couple of certificates from charities recognizing and awarding my generosity. I had letters and public mentions of thanks. I was the sponsor of needy children in the child care programme of my home church.
Wondering why I was part of these conversations, I remembered how over the years in my church I had had to sign up three different times to stay on as a child sponsor. Three times I found my sponsorship commitments fizzling out. At first the sponsorships were forgotten, next they were cancelled and later after a few months new ones would be signed up. It was a predictable cycle for me and a sad state of affairs. With each round of fading commitment, I tried to convince myself that it was because I had not enough money to give. But within me I knew this was not entirely true.
So, as I prepared to wrap the royal gift and put money on a mobile account for my weekly donation to the family I adopted, the answer came to me in the most innocuous way. My repeated failure to sustain my commitments to sponsor a needy child led me to seek for an answer. That is when I got a hold of it. I was only giving out of the abundance of my material possessions rather than from the abundance of my heart. I wanted to impress people that I was responsive to the call for sponsorship. But my heart was not involved in my giving and hence I remained emotionally detached. Where there is no heart strings in these things, sustainability becomes difficult.
This discovery was rather unsettling. Wasn’t this a question of having let myself be defined by my material possessions?
I compared my experience to my son’s experience when he underwent community leadership development at our local church. During the training, he was attached to a poor widow living in one of the slums around Kampala. She was so poor, sick and yet looked after several grandchildren. Each week as he went out to minister to the needs of these people, my son asked for a small amount of money. At first I thought it was for his own needs. But it turned out that he was buying things he had discovered were needed badly at this home. Plastic plates and mugs, jerry-cans to collect water, basins to take baths, buckets for the laundry and second-hand clothes. The shopping didn’t cost him much, but the joy it brought to this family was so precious to my son. He said that just seeing this widow’s smile, touched his heart and became such a defining moment for him. He confessed that these were moments he would never trade for anything else and that he had found his purpose in life.
Our experiences were vastly different. But all in all, I was grateful for the time to mull things over before presenting the ‘royal’ gift. It brought me full circle to the place where my giving connected to my purpose in life. This was liberating. The times that truly motivate me, come when I use my talents, passions and values to encourage and add value to people. If through my life I can lift people to their place of highest value, I will be fulfilled. It wasn’t about how much I earned or possessed but about what part of me I needed or wanted to express to the world. So, I purposed to get emotionally involved and let my gift say something about me as a person, that I care and value people and the issues that concern them. For, who but yourself can ever tell how honest you are by your gift except you?