Psychologists advise us that generosity provides numerous benefits, not only for others, but for ourselves.
How Generosity Improves Our Lives
A 10-year research study of 2700 people done by the University of Michigan revealed that the positive effects of generosity include improving one’s mental and physical health and promoting longevity. Researchers found that men who did regular volunteer work had death rates two-and-one half times lower than men who didn’t. Generosity reduces stress, supports one’s immune system and enhances one’s sense of purpose.
In an article for Psychology Today, Lisa Firestone Ph.D. tells us that “generosity is a natural confidence builder and a natural repellent of self-hatred. People who battle depression have been shown to benefit from volunteering, as it gives them a sense of value and purpose, while placing them in a social environment.”
Though we may fail to see a downside to living an altruistic life, and readily applaud acts of generosity in others, many of us fail to allow others to be generous to us. Those of us who have been taught to give without asking for anything in return, feel ashamed or embarrassed at being given a hand. However, accepting from others allows them the opportunity to experience the aforementioned benefits. It’s truly the give and take that brings us our greatest sense of joy.
What Constitutes Generosity?
You may be familiar with the following Bible verse.
When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matt 6:2-4)
As you read it, do you first think of the ‘gift’ as money? The word ‘alms’, which is used in many Bible versions of this verse, is also defined as food given to poor people with synonyms that are, for the most part, indicating the giving of something concrete, like a handout or contribution. And this was the direction of my earlier thinking because the synagogues were notorious recipients of monetary contributions and because ‘charity’ is typically thought of as money or goods.
Yet generosity also includes kindness, hospitality and service to others; acts that everyone has the resources to provide. My Hebrew language advisor, Dr. Frank Leeds III, tell me that
“The giving of Alms is rooted in the Hebrew word Hesed. Hesed is translated scores of different ways with the accent not on what is given but rather what flows from a loving heart …which is also the key characteristic of God.”
What Flows from a Loving Heart?
Service to Others Flows from a Loving Heart
Mother Teresa was a shining example of a giver of ‘hesed’.
“In determining which work would be done, there was no planning at all”, she said. “I headed the work in accordance with how I felt called by the people’s sufferings. God made me see what He wanted me to do.”
Her ability to ‘see’ was one of her gifts from God. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives every believer a spiritual gift that he chooses for them. He explains:” A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.“ (I Cor 12:7) There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service. So, these gifts are much more varied than any list you will find in the Bible and we each have at least one that we can use to serve.
Mother Teresa also expressed that
“Whoever the poorest of the poor are, they are Christ for us. -Christ under the guise of human suffering. The Missionaries of Charity (her convent) are firmly convinced that each time we offer help to the poor, we are offering help to Christ. The work is nothing but a means to express our love for him.” Then she said “let us not be satisfied just by giving money. Money is not everything. The poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts. Love, and abundant love, is the expression of our Christian religion. “
This attitude is based on Matt 25:31-40, where Jesus tells the disciples about the future separation of the righteous and unrighteous.
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Jesus claimed His acts of service channeled the loving acts of service of His Father and the acts themselves were proof of this claim. Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, calming the storm, raising the dead, casting out demons, and dying on the cross are some.
Jesus said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me “. Likewise, Christ will recognize those who are in him and in whom he is. Jesus’s acts of service were evidence that he was the Son of God, just as we are sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Christ, also evidenced by our acts of loving service.
Hospitality Flows from a Loving Heart
Generosity also includes hospitality which is more than a simple welcome or an offer of food or drink. Hospitality is an attitude of a loving heart that opens us to the enrichment of new ways of thinking and living that are brought to us by others. It is to receive them on their own terms by offering friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving them alone.
Hospitality implies attentiveness to others and to the needs of others, even anticipating their needs. Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge others and their needs—both the needs of the larger world and the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness; He noticed the sick, the excluded, the hungry, and those that others passed by.
Kindness Flows from a Loving Heart
If you live in a busy world, kindness is a form of generosity that is hard to find. It is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry. Your level of kindness surfaces when the sheer inconvenience of a situation would seem to justify non-involvement. Kindness much prefers considerateness to anger, and leaps enthusiastically over the barriers of inconvenience.
Kindness is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry.
It is only too evident that Christians should be ambassadors of kindness. As the Apostle Paul advises in Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
But kindness is not exclusively Christian. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood the personal as well as the social benefits of kindness. “Ask thyself daily,” he wrote, “to how many ill-minded persons thou hast shown a kind disposition.”
The expressions of kindness may be simple and undramatic. The results, however, can be decisive and most dramatic. A young man, named Mark, was trying to negotiate his way home one day with his arms full of paraphernalia he had just taken from his high school locker. The inevitable happened. He tripped. Suddenly his precious cargo was no longer in his arms but scattered on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan bystander, a student from the same high school, stopped and helped his distraught neighbor. A small act of kindness, undramatic and unpretentious. A conversation ensued and, before very long, a friendship developed.
In time, Mark explained to his friend that the reason he cleaned out his locker was because he did not want to leave a mess behind for someone else. He had saved up enough of his mother’s sleeping pills to put himself to sleep permanently. He was going home to kill himself when an act of unexpected kindness gave his plans and his life a new direction. Kindness, truly, can save lives
A generous heart knows no bounds. Our ability to give to others is not limited to money, for there is often a greater appreciation for your kindness, hospitality and service particular to the need, which is often unexpectedly presented. We must prepare our hearts to allow a spontaneous loving flow. This can be done by meditating on the spiritual truths found in scripture and putting them into practice. All that we have been given by God drastically outweighs the time, talents and virtue we give to Him in service.
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. —Simone Weil
If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. —Mother Teresa
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. – John Wesley
If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-27)
Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Prov 3:3)
The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. (Acts 28:2)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)
The Love Languages of God by Gary Chapman
“Generosity-What’s in It for You” a Psychology Today article by Lisa Firestone PhD
Putting on the Heart of Christ by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ
“Virtue of Kindness” – Dr. Donald Demarco