Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deserving and Giving

There are times I look around and wonder what I’ve done to deserve this life I have.  I don’t ask the question in a despairing, desperate way, but in an awestruck, filled-with-wonderment way.  That awe has permeated me this week, drenching me as I stand with my face looking to the sky of blessings raining down on me.  My fortune soaks me to the bone and I can't help but feel enormous gratitude for my family and friends, talents, experiences and opportunities, clarity, and so much more.  At the core, I've done little to deserve any of it and many things not to deserve such a life.

As I look at my own life, I also look at other people's lives and ask what they've done to deserve the life they have.  This is the question that may take a despairing, desperate tone, not for myself, but whomever I may be considering.  Why was that child (and not me) born into poverty?  Why does that woman have as her only option prostitution?  Why is it that he lost his father at age three, met his father's killer at age nine, and still, decades later, grapples with his anger?  Why is that family living like a prisoner despite an impeccable life? I don't have answers.  It seems to me that they, like me, have done little to deserve any of it and many things not to deserve such a life.

It can be dangerous to compare one's life to another's, particularly when it is the "why don't I have... like...?"  variety.  I've played it that way and know the damage it can cause to the psyche.  I try to steer clear of that version of the game now, sometimes succeeding, but not always.  At the same time, I believe that looking at my comparative abundance, rather than some particular lack, is crucial to having perspective about life.

For me recognizing the great privilege in my life is a call to action.  The call is to be generous, not to hoard what I've been given, whether it be knowledge, skills, insight, or love.  I sometimes worry that in giving I will give "too much" and find myself without.  However, I can't think of actual instances of this happening.  In fact, the opposite seems to be true.  The more I give, the more I seem to receive.  "[The one] who confers benefits will be amply enriched, and [the one] who refreshes others will be refreshed" (Prov. 11: 25).  It is humbling to be the recipient of others' knowledge, skills, insight, and love. Receiving them, I don't want to make poor use of the gifts. Receiving them leads me to want to share more.

I still have much practice ahead of me to test the limits of generosity (if there are limits of generosity).  I pray that I may faithfully use what I've been given to serve others, to share the abundance, to recognize need and try to address it:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40).

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