On Thursdays I will be writing about giving. Almsgiving has been a Lenten practice for centuries. Giving gifts of time, talent and money. Giving from our abundance. Giving to those who have need. Giving because it brings life.
“Everything you have, you will lose. Eventually. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that’s the truth.”
It was probably 15 years ago or so. My friend, Connie and I were walking on a trail to the lake. We were talking about an upcoming Stewardship campaign at her church. Connie was the campaign chair and she was talking through what she was planning on saying in church the next morning. I don’t remember it word-for-word, but I remember a lot of it.
The two of us met when I was working and she was volunteering at Common Ground in the 1990’s. This was a day program for folks living with HIV/AIDS. It was the time just before protease inhibitors came along. It was a time when she and I witnessed most everyday just how precious life was.
“Everything you have, you will lose,“ she said to me on that early fall day when we were walking. “Eventually, you will lose your hair and probably your hearing. You will lose your balance and probably your teeth. You will lose those you love. You will lose your money at some point. You can’t take it with you. It’s important to know that and to think about it. Doesn’t it make sense to choose the things you can give away before everything is lost?”
It’s been years now since that walk with my friend to the lake. And after all these years, our conversation has stayed with me. I knew she was right then, and I know it today. Everything is passing as it was written centuries ago in Ecclesiastes. My gifts of money, of time, of service are the things I have to give. From these gifts I am living out my values. In giving them, I am marking what matters to me most.
Almsgiving is one of Lent’s traditional spiritual acts. Throughout the scriptures we are instructed to give to neighbor and stranger alike. Not because we must, but because we may. If we have two coats, we are instructed to give one away. If someone is hungry, offer them food and drink. Ours is a God of generosity. Through our acts of compassion and generosity we are living into the love we have first received. Throughout this season, we will be presented with ways (subtle and not so subtle) where we can respond with lovingkindness. It is through these actions that we will be reminded just how rich we are.
Remembering Connie’s words from years ago, reminds of life’s balance. When I’m always clutching and holding on to what is mine, my world becomes pretty small. My focus and my energy are kept continually protecting what I’ve got. My world becomes smaller and smaller. When I seek to be more in-balance, then a more life-giving rhythm appears - holding on and letting go. Holding on and letting go. I can choose to give to what matters most – and it matters that I am mindful, thoughtful, faithful to what I choose.