As I think about my own various journeys of self-discipline in life, few have been more challenging and arduous than learning to give. I didn’t grow up homeless, but at times, it was only because my mom had friends that would take us in.
I remember living in a dark basement storage room underneath an old tattered restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. And I remember my brother and I shivering from the cold — because we didn’t have money. I remember wanting so badly a pair of Air Jordan’s that one point after being told “no” over and over again I truly got angry because we couldn’t afford them. As ridiculous as it sounds, the fact that our cereal came out of a bag instead of a box legitimately made me feel less important than my other friends because we didn’t have money like they did. My first lessons about money were born out of lack.
Lack can be — and was for me — a powerful force in wanting to acquire money. And once I finally got money there was no way I would ever give any of it away. How could I when it represented the very necessities of life?
It would only later be through blind, begrudging and somewhat bewildered faith that I would start to give. It was not because I wanted to give and — although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it now — it was not because I wanted to help anyone else. My giving started only out of obedience.
Unexpectedly, a gradual transforming and cleansing of my heart started to take place. Warmth, importance and peace entered into my life in a way I had never felt before.
Giving makes you thankful. Now I can so clearly see in the lives of people around me that if you have a hard time giving it’s almost always because you aren’t thankful for what you have. You think of yourself as a thankful person, but you’re not. Until you learn to give, you keep score by money. And when you are keeping score by money and stuff, you spend more time thinking about how to get more than you do about being thankful for what you have now. At this stage, you might have heat in your house but like me, you will still have cold in your heart.
When you give money away you get to see how it fills a need in someone else’s life and somehow in seeing how it makes their life better, it makes you appreciate all the things you have in yours. There is something about giving to another that caused me stop and ask myself, “How many of the things I have in my own life are truly entirely 100 percent in my possession because of only me and my work?” Very quickly, I realize the answer to that question is zero. And because nothing I have is through only my own work, it means that I’m 100 percent codependent on the world around me. Suddenly, in an all-consuming way, I become very thankful for each and everything in my life. Something I didn’t see before.
Giving creates an awareness of abundance. Realizing then that even in my codependence on others I have my basic needs met, I understand that I don’t have to hang on so tightly. I start to see that money comes and goes always in a constant continuous circular flow. There are times when I spend and times when I earn but my attachment to it becomes less and less and I realize that it isn’t a finite resource to be divided up and fought over. It’s a tool of which more can be created of by bringing value to people’s lives.
At this stage, my attitude with money likens to holding a scoop of sand in my hand. I see that the more tightly I squeeze to hold it in, the more that gets away from me. And yet with a gentle grip of a cupped open facing palm, I allow it to come and go. The anger and anxiety over this money has strangely become more peaceful.
Giving gives you freedom. Somehow in lessening my grip on my money I seem to develop a greater strength in acquiring more of it. At this stage I see the irony in how what started as giving something away that was mine, I now realize that none of it really belongs to me but more and more of it comes to me.
My confidence and trust that I will have enough of it enables me to move past the money and focus on a much more satisfying impulse to serve and create value for other people, which only makes more of it show up. As more of it starts to show up the obvious thing to do — and by far the more gratifying thing to do — is to give it away. And giving it away to people who need it has suddenly and inexplicably made me more important to people.
It’s a startling revelation to realize that what I once thought money could bring me by having it, later came to me more by giving it away. What started out as reluctance, birthed gratefulness. Gratefulness bore generosity, generosity created freedom and freedom created a chance for importance. And so long as I maintain my detachment from it, I maintain my ability to gather it. As I have it I give it, and as I give, I receive in return what I always really wanted most.
That’s the mysterious power of giving… at least for me.