Today I actually had the opportunity to sit with a small group of people and engage in dialogue of sorts with the pastor of The Porch during his teaching on the subject of Generosity. The discussion centered around Jesus’ teaching found in Mathew chapter 5: 38-48:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.40 If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.41 If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles. 42 If a person asks you for something, give it to him. Don’t refuse to give to someone who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemies.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.[c] 45 If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.46 If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that.47 And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. 48 So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Being generous to people who absolutely do not and have not earned generosity, on any level: material, physical, emotional, financial, or in terms of time or energy. Offering no resistance to those who intentionally seek to do harm and going out of your way to bless them instead of curse them. Not just abstain from repaying evil for evil, but actually stepping outside of your will and right to retribution in order to give them something good of yourself. Astonishing generosity.
This week I had the opportunity to read the blog of someone whose story exemplified this kind of astonishing generosity. Now, she may not necessarily see it this way, but when listening and discussing this subject this morning, it became so very clear to me, that whatever spiritual or belief system this person ascribes to, that God has touched her spirit and lives through her. As a child she experienced horrific, long-term abuse with life long effects from the people who were supposed to nurture, love and cherish her – her mother and her father. While reading her story, she shared that as part of her determination to heal, grow, change, and attempt to break the cycles of abuse and violence she had confronted, reconciled, and achieved forgiveness with these people. More than that, she expressed a deep and continuing love for her parents. She wrote of them being broken human beings while acknowledging that their brokenness didn’t justify their abuse, but did justify her love and forgiveness.
Astonishing generosity. How does that kind of generosity come to be?
It is certainly not an inherent trait of human nature. At least it isn’t an inherently natural characteristic of mine or most of the people I’ve known in my life. A lot of us want to be kind and generous, primarily because we want to be thought well of by others and acting in these kind and generous ways tends to bring compliments and praise. We often will act in kind and generous ways with an conscious or subconscious expectation of being treated well in return. Both of these motivators for kind and generous acts lead to martyr complex, bitterness, resentment, and a poisoning of our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. That’s the outcome of acting generous without having a generosity of spirit driving the decisions to be generous.
At this point in the discussion the pastor told the story of The Old Man and the Scorpion
One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”
As he finished telling this story, the pastor stated that this is God’s nature and referred to Romans 8:32 (NCV)
The point here being that God’s loving nature and desire to redeem, rescue, , restore and reintegrate all of humanity to Himself was/is so great and mighty that even the sacrifice of His Son, the embodiment of Himself, was not withheld from us. Therefore, if we can believe that God loves us that much, we can also believe and trust that God will provide for us and sustain us throughout this life and into the next. This text does not indicate that this life and this existence, whether we believe in God and Jesus or not, will be without pain, hardship, difficulty, stress or even horror, it just indicates that God seeks to save and provide for us.
Co-relating the story of The Old Man and the Scorpion together with the text from Romans suggests that, like the scorpion, human nature is more likely to strike out at the hand that seeks to offer salvation and comfort, but that does not change the nature of God to seek to save.
Being able to come into an understanding and acceptance that there is a God who loves me and provides for me, as well as every other human being, not because of my/our deserving nature, but because of his/her/it’s nature, can help me to reach the point of astonishing generosity to those around me. Because, once I understand that everything I struggle and strive to hold onto and control – the things I believe that I’m the only one I can count on to provide – is ultimately provided by God, then I can trust that God himself gives me the capacity for astonishing generosity.
So, I have an amends to make to my neighbor. I was being given the opportunity for giving astonishing generosity this week, when she called on me in her times of need. I put her off and refused because I was trusting only in my own limited strength and capacities and my concern for my own comfort and well-being dictated that I hold to my boundaries. I forgot to put my trust in God and His provision for me. In doing that, I not only let my neighbor down, but I also blocked access for God to work through me. I’m certain God revealed or will reveal His love and concern for her in another way. But, I robbed both her and I of the opportunity for God’s nature to manifest within the context of our relationship with each other.
In actuality, I have this kind of amends to make to many people in my life – family members, acquaintances, strangers, and those whom I’ve called friends. There have been brief periods where I’ve allowed the astonishing generosity of God to flow through me and my life, but not often and not for long. I think, analyze, and evaluate too much. I think first, act next, and pray almost never. I let my nature to protect myself and defend, deflect, deny, and ultimately reject the very thing I’m desperately in need of ~ love and acceptance. Like the scorpion, I strike out and sting. It used to be very overt, like the strike of the scorpion. Now, it’s more subtle and subdued and tends to take the form of distance and withdrawal.
I guess this is where I go back into Steps 1-3: Admitting my powerlessness against my need to protect myself, believing that there is a powerful and loving God who can restore me to sanity, and making the conscious decision to turn my will and my life over to God.
Abba, help me to truly admit and believe in my powerlessness and the unmanageability of my life and to believe in You and your love on the deeper and more fundamental levels of my being than my mind and intellect, that I can truly surrender my will to Yours.