One of my brothers tells of seeing how our father, a farmer with six children, treated a man from whom he was buying a farm implement. After the dealer proposed a price, our father double-checked with him whether that would really be a fair price – for the dealer.
In finance, “opportunity cost” refers to the loss of potential gain when a different alternative is chosen. So, for example, if you choose not to invest your money, the investment income that you forgo as a result of that choice constitutes your opportunity cost.
To me, my dad’s interaction illustrates how this concept can apply to more than just money. For instance, there’s an opportunity cost when we choose greed over two of the coolest qualities that people can express: generosity and magnanimity.
The truth be told, pursuing gain at all costs – whether that is the larger part of just the chocolate bar, the business windfall, or the family inheritance – doesn’t actually enrich us in substantial ways. Greed may sometimes leave one with more things, but it never leaves us feeling as satisfied as if we’ve honored our business partner or family member or strengthened a relationship.
But generosity enriches in powerful ways. The Bible tells of a man named Abraham and his nephew Lot dividing up land so that they both have enough room for their flocks and herds. Abraham invites Lot to choose whichever portion of the land he wishes, and Lot chooses what appears to be the better land. Abraham accepts this without resentment and then experiences and helps others experience far more blessings than his nephew does (see Genesis 13:1-17).
Jesus pointed his followers to the value of generosity. When a widow donated the tiniest bit of money to her synagogue’s treasury, Jesus observed that she had given far more than any other donor relative to what she had (see Mark 12:41-44). What largesse! In her main work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us” (p. 79).
It feels good to take the high road, as Abraham did, because it’s our nature as children of God to be generous and loving, not fearful and grabbing. Each of us, in our true nature as God’s spiritual offspring, is created in God’s image and likeness – loving, magnanimous, and receiving all we need from our infinitely gracious and all-powerful Father-Mother, God. Thus we don’t have to manipulate situations or people to have good. We receive everything we need as God’s freely given gift to us, a gift that we need only discover.
I had an experience that illustrated how a God-inspired generosity of spirit leads to mutual blessings. Two of us from the same academic program in a relatively small university were applying for an internship in Canada’s Parliament. Only ten people were to be chosen from across the country.
Instead of approaching the competition aggressively with the thought that only a few people would be benefited, I prayed to see that each of the hundreds of applicants was cared for by God, and therefore we all had a right place that included abundant divine good, whether accepted for the internship or not. I also shared with my classmate several Bible verses with which I was finding it helpful to pray. He thanked me. I felt at peace, and we remained friendly as we went through the interview process.
About three weeks later we learned that we both had been chosen for the internship. We ended up rooming together, and it was a great year. Decades later, we still have a happy relationship.
Each of us can let God inspire in us higher, more selfless goals than the single-minded pursuit of money or some particular object or opportunity. Whatever our situation in life, we gain the greatest and most lasting satisfaction by treating others fairly and living consistently with our spiritual, generous nature as children of God. Through God’s grace we can achieve this. And in so doing, we experience freedom and the sheer joy of helping others – in expression of the God who helps us all.