When I was young and my family would go out to dinner with another family, it astounded me when the two fathers would see who could be the first to grab the check and pay for the whole meal. “Why would anyone want to pay for another family’s meal?” I wondered.
Of course, as I grew up, I better understood the joys of being generous and found it more and more natural to want to give whatever I could to others. But still there was that sense of a zero-sum game in my thought – a sense that if I was generous with my resources, there would be less for me and my family.
And then one day I came upon this arresting statement by Mary Baker Eddy, my favorite author and the woman who founded The Christian Science Monitor: “He who is afraid of being too generous has lost the power of being magnanimous” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 165). Even as I read this statement I could sense something powerful behind it, something that lifted the idea of generosity above simply calculating how much one could afford to give to others.
This quote points to a source of resources so abundant that there’s enough for all. Christian Science explains that this source is the divine Spirit, God, that bestows limitless good, spiritual ideas and inspiration, on each of us.
I saw evidence of God’s abundance for all when a nonprofit group I’m a part of needed to find a new facility to meet in. I was able to find and secure a contract with another facility that offered the same rate, which was very helpful to our budget. However, before our first event at that facility, the facility was sold. The new owners were willing to honor our written contract even though it was not financially advantageous to them, but said that in years going forward they would have to increase our rate dramatically.
Sensing their distress, I felt a deep sense of love welling up within me. With it came an awareness of God as the real source of the joy and inspiration this activity included. Accordingly, neither of us could lose the ability to express and experience these qualities.
I found myself saying to the new owners, “This event needs to be a blessing for everyone, including you! What would it take for it to feel like a blessing this year, not just next year?” They named a very modest rate increase that they indicated they hoped to maintain the following year as well.
We agreed to sign new contracts based on that amount, and as we concluded, warmly shaking hands, they said, “This feels so good, we’ll even throw in some lemonade and homemade cookies for the event.”
There’s a story in the Bible of Christ Jesus feeding thousands of men, women, and children with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish (see Matthew 14:14-21). First he took stock of what was on hand. Then he thanked God, understanding the wholeness and universality of God’s goodness. The supply of food represented the manifestation of limitless divine supply – in other words, the substance of God’s, divine Love’s, tender, perpetual care for His creation.
Finally, Jesus commanded his disciples to share the food freely. Talk about picking up the tab for the whole meal! The whole transaction seemed to be outside a sense of possession. Jesus didn’t act as if he owned the fish, and he didn’t have less or suffer because of this generosity. In fact, the Bible says they gathered up 12 baskets of leftovers when everyone had finished eating.
Thinking about giving from a basis of possessing a finite amount of good can leave us feeling conflicted about being too generous or not generous enough. But we can accept the infinite resources of God, all the goodness that is supplied and maintained by “the infinite.” This will never lead us to be foolhardy or miserly, but rather inspire magnanimity that is both wise and selfless. And as we see more clearly that it’s the nature of good to multiply when shared, that divine Love is never depleted, we’ll see evidence of God’s care shining in our day-to-day experience.