Generosity

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I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity: noticing how hard it can be to find an abundance of it in our culture, wondering why it is so hard to be generous, wishing I were a more generous person, knowing I can have a hard time accepting generosity.

I don’t think hikers on the Appalachian Trail are more generous than any other group of people. But somehow generosity was more transparent among them: conveying information, offering rides, lending cars, sharing water, giving away extra food, swapping stories, waiting with the injured, listening to the tearful, picking up other’s trash. And as hikers we were recipients of generosity from town folk who simply liked hikers. It was pure grace, pure generosity, because we hikers could offer little in return. We certainly had not earned what we were being given.

One Saturday my hiking buddy, Jeff, and I set up our tents in the Waynesboro, Virginia,  town park, a grassy space dedicated to AT hikers who come into town to do their laundry, resupply at the grocery store, and shower at the YMCA. No surprise that we also followed other hikers’ advice and ate at the local Ming’s Chinese buffet.

Sunday morning came quickly. Jeff and I decided to give our aching bodies more rest by only hiking a half-day in the afternoon and attending a Lutheran church in the morning. When we arrived at worship dressed in our hiking gear, we were greeted by a few people who quickly assessed why we were there. One older gentlemen who came to talk to us was concerned that the air-conditioned sanctuary was pretty cold for a hiker like me wearing a lightweight tee-shirt. So he offered me his sports jacket. That offer was surprising because long-distance hikers are not known for their cleanliness. (Although, yes, I had showered at the YMCA the afternoon before.) His offer was such a simple gesture of generosity.

Why are we so reticent to accept generosity? I thanked him and said, No, I thought I would be fine.

Soon Jeff and I found a pew about halfway down the aisle and sat down. A few minutes later this same gentlemen came in with his wife and sat near the front. Before long he got up, took his jacket off, walked back to where I was sitting and said, “Please, take this. It’s cold and I would feel so much better if you wore this.” By then, I was getting chilled. Besides, everyone was looking at us. I was touched by his persistence and gratefully accepted the sports coat. It stayed around my shoulders for the rest of the service, including going forward for communion. I wore that jacket as if it were Joseph’s technicolor dream coat.

Immediately following the last hymn, people sat down for a congregational meeting about refurbishing the organ, so Jeff and I decided to exit quietly and get on with the day’s hike. As someone spoke about financing, I slipped off the coat and took it up to our host, crouched beside his pew and whispered a thank you for his kindness. His wife leaned over and asked us to come to their home for dinner. That was very tempting, but I told them we needed to get some more miles in before the day was over in order to keep to our schedule and get to Damascus by July. I also assured them how much we appreciated their generosity, and it was indeed true.

Perhaps a pilgrim must learn to receive generosity.  I often think back to that Sunday morning and its generosity which I almost refused. Jesus talked about lending coats, offering cups of water, welcoming strangers, sharing a meal—all very simple but powerful ways to offer generosity and grace. I received many of these gifts at worship that day and did nothing to earn or deserve it. Yet through the kind actions of one gentleman God opened my eyes to wonder how often I refuse God’s generosity in my life—especially when it shows up, not in dramatic ways, but in the simple, unostentatious actions of others.   Can I believe that God might playfully delight in surprising me over and over with God’s generous gifts for the sheer joy if it?  No strings attached—just gracious, abundant generosity finding its way home in us.

So here’s my prayer—and perhaps you will join me:

May I become attentive enough to notice God’s generosity when it shows up in the kindnesses of others. May I become humble enough to receive the generosity of God’s help when it is offered.  And may I become a thankful and generous person toward God and toward others through the generous grace I have received.  Amen.