Enjoying, giving, and enjoying giving

14 May

As I explained in my previous post, I’ve been seeking a healthy approach to enjoying what I’ve been given while also doing what I can to help others with less.

As I often do with life’s difficult questions, I turned to the scriptures and modern-day prophets.

On the giving end

My first thought was of the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18)? After the man confirmed he was already keeping the commandments, Jesus told him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The story takes a sad turn when the man “went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). Jesus further taught his disciples with that oh-so-memorable analogy, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

Jesus also taught in the Sermon on the Mount to “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:31; 3 Nephi 13:31) and to “consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28).

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin gives a powerful discourse on giving to the poor: “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? … O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another” (Mosiah 4:19, 21)

In addition to these verses, countless prophets and Church leaders have made it clear that it is our firm obligation as Christians and as humans to help one another even and especially when it requires personal inconvenience or sacrifice.

But how literally do I need to take the advice to the rich young man? Do I really need to sell everything I have and give it to the poor? To not work toward and worry about providing for myself and my family?

On the enjoying end

Jesus may have told the rich young man to sell everything, but in another situation he praised spending money on something other than the poor. Mary, one of his disciples and friends, anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive ointment. Judas Iscariot balked, questioning why she didn’t sell it and give the proceeds to the poor (it is noted he didn’t ask because he cared for the poor). The Lord responded, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always” (Mark 14:6-7).

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does a whole lot of humanitarian work around the world, but it still sets aside funds to pay for building and decorating super-fancy temples (because they are sacred and are dedicated as a house of God).

In Jesus the Christ, James E. Talmage points out that Jesus “was neither a recluse nor an ascetic; He moved among men, eating and drinking, as a natural, normal Being. On the occasion of the feast He recognized and heeded the demands of the liberal hospitality of the times, and provided accordingly. He, who but a few days before had revolted at the tempter’s suggestion that He provide bread for His impoverished body, now used His power to supply a luxury for others” (Chapter 11).

President John Taylor taught:

“We like enjoyment here. That is right. God designs that we should enjoy ourselves. I do not believe in a religion that makes people gloomy, melancholy, miserable and ascetic. … I should not think there was anything great or good associated with that, while everything around, the trees, birds, flowers and green fields, were so pleasing, the insects and bees buzzing and fluttering, the lambs frolicking and playing” (Chapter 11).

Then there’s also this gem: “Men [and women] are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

So maybe I don’t need to shun all worldly possessions. I’m allowed to, supposed to, have joy–but does that mean I can snatch up the latest gadgets guilt-free?

The happy medium: Enjoying giving

As always, the answer is somewhere in between. The same discourse of King Benjamin mentioned above includes the ultimate scripture for moderation:

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order” (Mosiah 4:27).

No, I don’t feel obligated to sell everything I have. And no, I know I can’t find happiness in consumer goods. Instead, I’ve found five important ways I can give while still enjoying what I have:

1. Pay tithing. That’s 10 percent of our income. It’s a commandment, and it acknowledges that everything I have is from God, so the least I can do is give back a small part of it.

2. Fast and give a generous fast offering. There are so many physical and spiritual blessings of fasting, but one is that it teaches gratitude for what we have and empathy for those who have less.

In addition to tithing, we are also asked to fast once a month and give a fast offering that is equal to at least the amount we would have spent on the two meals we skipped. However, this quote from President Spencer W. Kimball suggests more than the bare minimum: “I think we should … give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more when we are in a position to do it.”

3. Live within your means. I know I don’t need to sell all my possessions, because even prophets have said it’s OK to buy some things–including a “modest home” (like here and here). The First Presidency has counseled: “We urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from this bondage. Save a little money regularly to gradually build a financial reserve.”

To work, to have income, to be able to provide for our family–these things are good. We just need to use our resources wisely so that we can bless our families and others.

4. Be willing to give freely and spontaneously. I know there have been times when I try to rationalize not giving money to someone on the street because “it’s OK, I already pay tithing.” And although responding to panhandling can be tricky, in general we need to be willing to give whenever the opportunity comes. I remember a girl from church in Philadelphia sharing an experience that provided a great example of this. She was on the subway home from her volunteer job where she assisted a special-needs child. There was a man at the subway station who was unkempt and distressed. He had some sort of minor injury (it’s been awhile, so I don’t remember the details) and seemed lost and wasn’t sure who to call or where to go. To most people–really, to everyone else at the station–this man was an untouchable: the kind of person we walk past, hurrying, and don’t feel bad about it. It’s for my own protection, we think. Who knows what they might do if I talk to them. But this girl didn’t hurry past. She stopped, and she talked to the man. She sat with him. She sat with him for several hours, helping him figure out someone to call and waiting with him for a ride. I admire this girl for being willing to observe and serve.

5. Give out of love, not guilt. I hope that this and the previous post don’t sound like an overly anxious first-world-guilt confession. Because although I do feel that tinge of guilt, it’s more from knowing how much better I can and should be doing.

When we give, it shouldn’t be out of guilt. That’s nearly as bad as giving resentfully.

Surprisingly, it is OK to give to benefit ourselves. One leader said, “Be liberal in your giving, that you yourselves may grow. Don’t give just for the benefit of the poor, but give for your own welfare. Give enough so that you can give yourself into the kingdom of God through consecrating of your means and your time.

It’s also OK to have money and things. After Jesus’s disciples were astonished at his teaching that “how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God,” he clarified, “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 10:24, emphasis added)!

It’s not so much having money and things that’s a problem; it’s loving them more than God or our fellow man. When we love God and others, we give because we want to–want to show our gratitude for what we have, want to help someone in need–not because we have to or because we are supposed to.

I have plenty of room to improve in applying these points, but I am excited to get closer to finding a balance between enjoying and giving what I have: the key is enjoying giving.

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One Response to “Enjoying, giving, and enjoying giving”

  1. Jon Van Woerkom May 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Holly: Print that out. That is a wonderful sermon that is a ready-to-go Sacrament Meeting talk. I was smacked in the face by your reference to the man in the subway as an ‘untouchable.’ We really do have people like that here in America. As an LDS Bishop, I have occasion to work with and try to assist transient homeless members of our church. Let’s just say that they are not the kind of people we typically interact with each Sunday. Some of them meet the description of the person in the subway that your young friend compassionately served. It is difficult to provide the kind of help they need because so many of their problems are deep-seated and not the kind of thing that can be ‘fixed’ overnight. I am moved by how they are always grateful for whatever we can do for them. I helped a family get a hotel for 8 nights, long enough for them to get a small check they needed to get into an apt. It was a blessing to them to avoid living in their car. The Lord wants us to see everyone as our brothers and sisters and if we are ever going to be truly Christ-like, we have much to do in changing our image of who is our brother and the extent we should go to love and serve them. What a gifted, insightful writer and teacher you are. Love you so much, Dad

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