My parents made financial sacrifices so my siblings and I could attend Catholic schools growing up. Different family members have offered me financial help at difficult and stressful moments of life. Close friends and mentors have shown up to walk with me and support me through difficult times. Priests and my spiritual director have prayed with me and helped me discern life decisions and the movement of the Spirit in my daily life.
A similarity in each of these chapters of my life is the deep generosity people have shown me in both inward and outward ways.
Can you look at your own life and see how others have poured out generosity to you? Where have you generously received through the love and kindness of those around you? While generosity is a virtue that sometimes can be easily overlooked, it is one I believe we can find and rediscover in our lives right now.
From the time I was a little girl, I have been fascinated with the meaning behind words and understanding them. Perhaps it came from a love of reading, but I have been a lover of words for as long as I can remember.
As I reflect on what the word “generosity” means and looks like to me, there are varied definitions I see of this word: readiness or liberality in giving, largeness or fullness, a generous act, the spirit and action of freely and frequently giving to others, the quality or fact of being generous, an act of unselfish giving. It is this last definition, “an act of unselfish giving,” that most strikes me.
Generosity equals unselfish giving; it is a giving of oneself for the good of others. We can exhibit this virtue in big, medium and small ways in our daily lives and relationships through thought, word and action. The way I do it in life may look different from how you live it out in your own sphere of influence.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, we constantly see a story play out of a generous God who will go to all possible lengths to rescue and draw back his children. God is generous in mercy to us, generous in his loving care and faithfulness to us. He never gives up on us.
We can look to Jesus to see how he continually showed up in generous ways to people through his words and actions. He met a woman at a well who felt completely isolated from her community and had an honest conversation with her. He came to a large banquet feast at the home of Zacchaeus and spent time with people who were considered “less than” in town. He spent time grieving and recalling memories with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother. He provided an overabundance of food for hungry people and performed healing miracles that forever changed the lives of individuals.
Jesus lived both his public and private ministry in a spirit of generosity. He poured out the love of God unto all people he encountered. As his disciples, we are called to do the same.
What could the virtue of generosity look like in the life of a disciple in 2021? Here are some ideas to get you thinking of what generosity looks like in our words and actions.
Sounds like …
When playing charades, one of the first clues that often seems to be given is the phrase, “It sounds like…” What might generosity sound like in daily life?
Spend 10-15 minutes in silence to start your day. Silence is a way we can be generous with God because we are getting out of the way and showing up to be with the Lord. Silence leaves our agenda at the door, while seeking to be more open and receptive. Silence in prayer matters, even if we spend the whole time redirecting our thoughts and mind.
“You can use that toy first,” or, “How about I push you on the swing?”
These two are great ways we can teach our children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews to be generous with each other. We have all heard the saying, “Sharing is caring.” Teaching our children a spirit of generosity can begin in the smallest of ways like taking turns or sharing toys.
“How can I love you better today?”
The simplest definition of love is to will the good of the other. These questions can cause us to pause and reflect how we are being generous with our spouse or significant other. When we learn how to give and love in a selfless way, the world becomes a little less cold and a bit more loving. These questions are a great way to practice generosity in our more intimate relationships.
“How can I pray for you today?” Or, “What can I do to serve you today?”
These questions are good for all of us: the roommates in your house, family members you live with, spouses and children, even your co-workers. Joyful missionary disciples are open to where God leads and puts them in daily life. Be brave and look for opportunities where these questions might be a way to connect with others more deeply in the life around you. Not everyone may feel comfortable with sharing a prayer request, but most people would be touched by a thoughtful request of how you might be able to serve them today.
Generosity inspires gratitude
When I think of living out the virtue of generosity in daily life, my mind goes to the “Prayer of Generosity” written by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It goes like this: “Lord, teach me to be generous, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to look for any reward, save that of knowing that I do your holy will.”
One of the marks of Ignatian spirituality is how generosity and gratitude work together. Generosity inspires gratitude, and gratitude inspires generosity. God is generous to us and our generosity, as St. Paul reminds us, gives proof of our gratitude towards God. (see 2 Cor 9:11) When we are generous to each other, our local community, to God, it grows gratitude within us. This is a small, yet impactful spiritual reality that can change our relationship with God and each other.
What might generosity look like in the actions of daily life?
Spending quality time with a friend, co-worker, spouse, child, etc.
Quality time is one of the five official love languages and probably one common to many of us. For a married couple, it could be taking 10 minutes to pray and connect before the start of a busy day. In the workplace, it could be treating a co-worker to a lunch of her choice on her birthday. Or as a parent, it might mean letting your middle child stay up an extra 20 minutes after bedtime just to be together.
Offering a warm smile to every person you encounter in your day
As we begin to see and experience people’s faces again in public, offering a warm smile is a simple way to be generous to people around you. Set up an inner challenge with yourself, decide how many people you will genuinely smile at today. We just don’t know how intentional, simple acts like this can brighten the day of another.
Sharing with someone a word of affirmation or praise
Don’t you love it when someone praises you or offers a sincere, thoughtful compliment? Of course you do! So why not bless others, be generous with our words of affirmation and praise? Here are some ideas:
- I appreciate the delicious meal you made us last night. I love enjoying a good meal with you.
- Thank you for listening to my heart when I had big feelings yesterday. It made me feel seen and less alone.
- You look handsome (or beautiful!) today!
- I love the way your eyes light up your smile.
See how easy it is? Doesn’t that make you want to love the people around you?
Recalling your day with gratitude
A spiritual practice I personally enjoy is the Examen, given to the Church by St. Ignatius of Loyola. One of the steps of this prayer practice is recalling the things which you are grateful for from the past 24 hours. I call it “my daily grateful,” where I saw God and experienced his goodness and blessings around me. What this does is it helps us pay better attention to the details of daily life, which we often miss or downplay because we are too busy or hurried. Slowing down and counting the ways God loves and blesses you is a way to practice generosity with God for all he has given you. When I can name the “daily gratefuls” in my life, it attunes my spiritual senses to be more on the lookout for God in daily life.
God has been and is generous with each of us. As joyful missionary disciples of Jesus, we have an opportunity to extend that same generosity to each other in thought, word, and action. May each of us be on the lookout for opportunities of how we can generously love and live in the spheres of influence to where God has placed us.
Jesus, teach me to be generous as you have been so generous to me.