Updated: Oct 5
One of the things I did not expect, as a parent, was how the act of raising children would bring about the need to clarify and articulate my values, both in voice and in action. Generosity is not something that comes naturally to a child. It’s funny how in the church we talk about original sin as if that sin arises at conception. I have come to reject that notion for the experience I have had with my own children and instead call it original ego. It happens when they are about two years old and they realize they have some autonomy over their lives; everything then turns into a negotiation, or at times a battle, about them getting what they want.
Generosity has been a value that was instilled in me by my parents and one that I hold among the most important in my own life. Not only financial generosity, but also, the generosity of heart, of time, of resource and of grace. When someone in our family makes a mistake, we are always reminding one another to give them grace because sometimes life is hard and it’s better to be generous with our forgiveness than with our judgement.
When my eldest daughter was about 3 years old, she and I went on a shopping trip to the grocery store together, while her dad and sister stayed home. It was Christmas time and as we were coming out of the store, we noticed a man with a bell and Santa hat standing just outside the doors asking for donations for the Salvation Army. My motherly instinct kicked in and saw a great opportunity to illustrate an example of tangible financial generosity. I gave her a dollar bill and the coins in my purse and asked her to put it in the red bucket as I explained that the funds were for children who might not otherwise have Christmas presents. When she hesitated, I assumed her reticence was just timidity. I took some of the money back from her to put in the bucket and show her how it’s done. She immediately flung herself to the ground and began wailing. It was one of the most epic displays of petulance that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing. She was convinced that I was spending all our money and subsequently she would get nothing for Christmas. There I stood, this earnest mother in her clergy collar standing outside of the most popular grocery store in town, while my daughter had a monumental temper tantrum about giving away a dollar. Wow. Talk about the original ego. I was not only mortified but convinced that I had failed.
What I now know is that values are not instilled in a person in a moment of altruism but demonstrated over time with much practice and patience. Generosity is not something I can teach my children without modeling it. Like parenting, generosity must be lived out in word and deed, day in and day out, with our focus on the bigger picture of lifelong generosity in all things.
I do not always feel generous in the same way that I do not always feel like a good parent. Yet what I have learned as both a parent and as a person is that the act of giving out of the abundance God has shared in my life, changes not only who I am and my relationship with God’s Creation but is deep value that I strive to instill in my daughters each and every day.