I always say that my children are some of my greatest teachers. As they grow and change, it is amazing to see the ways they interact with the world, and this is particularly true when they’re young. Recently, I watched my youngest Abigail in a dilemma over grapes. She was snacking with friends and as she pulled out her bowl of grapes, one by one her friends asked if they could have some. She gladly shared with them but as she came down to one single grape, one last friend asked if she could have it. I could see that Abigail wanted it but, fairly quickly, she gave her last grape away any way. This got me thinking…
Adults don’t give the way children do because children don’t have the same hang-ups around generosity that adults do. As adults, we want to make sure our generosity really counts. If we are giving of our grapes – our time, energy, and money – we want to know that it is appreciated and that it was in support of something that we deem deserving.
Let’s say we see a homeless man begging on the street. Though we clearly know he is in need, we might make excuses as to why we shouldn’t give. We may think that he doesn’t deserve it, he hasn’t earned it, we wonder what he’ll spend it on and, ultimately, choose not to give. This can also be true of family members, friends, and anyone else that comes to us with a need that we know we can fulfill. Conversely, when we do give, sometimes it is from a consciousness of obligation, resentment, or guilt.
Kabbalah teaches that the Light of the Creator has an abounding desire to share and that our souls are comprised of that same light. Therefore, the more often we share and give, the more fully the light can flow through us. But there are varying degrees of giving, the lowest being any time we give begrudgingly. Maybe we give to the homeless man, but only give $1 when we know we have $5 handy. Maybe we run that errand for our spouse, but we make sure to let them know how out of the way it was. Yes, this is still giving but the energy behind the giving is not aligned with kindness. Ideally, we want to be in a place where giving simply out of kindness becomes our natural impulse. It’s possible, but it takes practice.
Pope Francis recently spoke on the topic of the practice of giving to the homeless. He says that “there are many excuses” to justify why one does not give when asked by someone begging on the street. Some may think, “‘I give money and he just spends it on a glass of wine!’” Francis said. But, he joked, a “glass of wine is his only happiness in life!”
He continued by saying that giving something to someone in need “is always right,” and that it should be done with respect and compassion, not judgment. This is transformative sharing. Giving because we can, for the sake of sharing. And the more difficult the sharing is, the more transformative it is.
Transformative sharing is not defined by money, time, or grand gestures. It is defined by the kindness behind it and the more we can stretch to give solely from kindness, the more Light we are bringing into our lives and the lives of those around us. You can do this by first looking for ways to give, instead of waiting for opportunities to arise. Or, when opportunities do arrive, give a little past your comfort level. Practice giving when you know you won’t receive anything in return.
I literally watched an example of this principle in action during an episode of Chopped on the Food Network. For those who have never tuned in, it is a cooking competition where chefs have 30 minutes to prepare dishes from a box of mystery ingredients. One chef noticed another contestant was having a rough time dismantling a crab so he leaned over into his kitchen and said: “It’s easier if you use scissors.” He quickly showed him the technique and went back to his side. Later, as the chefs stood before the judges with their meals, one of the judges commented to the man who helped his competitor, “That was pretty bold. Don’t you know nice guys finish last?”
He shrugged it off and said he just wanted to help. He went on to win the competition but he was never really playing to win. Watching the show, you could see that he was in joy the entire time. He wasn’t worried or stressed out about winning because, in essence, he had already won. Coming from that consciousness, his natural impulse was to give. The moral of this story is that giving really doesn’t cost us anything. If we close our fists out of judgment or fear of losing something material, we lose much more. Remaining open and creating a natural desire to share brings us nothing but blessings.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Somedays opportunities to share don’t naturally arise. One those days, make it a point to look for a way to share. The days that it does arise, and the giving feels difficult, and you don’t particularly want to share with the one in ‘need’: share even more.