Givers Or Takers – What Are We Cultivating?

Learning generosity from my four year old

Written by

"Time to clean up!" I told Connor to pick up his toys but he just sat on the floor whining. He begged me to help because it was “too hard,” a task that would literally take 30 seconds. Connor said there were too many toys to clean up. My ingenious response was that if he had too many toys to clean up then maybe he should give some away. (Of course my intent was to motivate him to clean up, not give the toys away). Instead he replied, “Okay Mommy, I want to give my toys to children who don’t have any.” Uh oh, I wasn’t prepared for that response . . . but I knew I couldn't back down from my "threat." I paused for a moment, not knowing what to say.  Immediately I heard in my spirit, "Be careful. How you respond now will shape Connor's ideas about giving for the rest of his life."

Connor BatmanSo, I got a big box and told Connor to gather the toys he wanted to donate and put them in the box. To my surprise, he put almost all of his super hero toys and play-sets in the container. Wait a second (I thought), those were the toys we just bought him last Christmas – the ones he absolutely loves (and the ones I was thinking of saving in the attic for his kids one day). I had plans for those toys. Internally I resisted this "charity" of his favorite toys (or maybe my favorites?) However, if this was an opportunity to form my child's beliefs about giving, I realized I needed to suppress my instinct to keep them.

Still, I thought Connor's eager willingness to donate his superhero toys would pass in time. I pulled out some of my favorite toys from the box and questioned him again if he wanted to keep those items so as not to break up the set . . . but here we are a week later and the box is still full.  He has not changed his mind. He assured me all his superheroes (that he kept) could fit into one play-set, so he was happy to give the other three away. In reality, he was right. It was almost sensory overload to have all the superhero toys out at once. He typically just played with one set.

Connor's sitter took in foster children, and there was one particular child that left an impact on him. Connor asks about this boy from time to time, commenting on how he didn’t have toys or parents or food. Connor’s solution was simple; he would share what he had with the kids who didn’t have anything.

Is the answer really that simple?

Many people have told me I am a generous person, but I am not so sure. It's true I get more joy from giving away my stuff than from selling it . . . but I always give away my used and unwanted things, my leftovers. Is there really generosity in that? The thought never crossed my mind to give away my new or favorite things. As I thought about the scenario, I wondered if Connor already had it figured out and I was the one who had more to learn.

According to Milanovic's book, "The Haves and the Have-Nots," earning $34,000 a year puts you in the top 1% of the wealth of the world, and earning $70,000 a year puts you in the top 0.1%. This statistic was eye-opening for me because I had no idea I was that rich.  Luke 12:48 states, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required." It is clear I am a person to whom much was given, but the culture of consumerism around me had numbed me to its effects.  Sadly, I believe we Christians can be just as materialistic as everyone else.  We often follow the cultural norms of spending, setting our eyes on our next big purchase and simply accumulating more stuff, while the majority of the world struggles to survive. Maybe this truth is too distant from our current reality to admit . . . but something is wrong with this picture. Thankfully, Connor has helped uncover this blind spot in my life, and I am re-working my ideas on giving.  He knew he did not need four batman play-sets, just like I do not need my closets overflowing full of stuff like they are.

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box and then a poor widow put in two small coins. He said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” The point of the story is that God measures gifts not by their size, but on the giver's heart, and their level of a sacrifice.  Jesus doesn't even mention tithing . . . only sacrificial giving.

I once heard Shane Willard teach on the Hebrew word tzedakah, which translated means both generosity and righteousness. There are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible that connect righteousness with generosity. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous act, but rather an act of justice. Jews view tzedakah as one of the highest commandments from God, and they practice it with open hands and hearts, acknowledging its life-giving effects for all involved. In Jewish culture, it is impossible to be righteous and greedy - it is simply incongruous to claim a true love for God while turning their back on someone in need. As it says in 1 John 3:16-18, "If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?"

After Connor donated those toys, he started giving something to every friend that came to our house.  From that day on, when a friend came over, they could not leave without Connor putting something in their hand to take with them.  Sometimes it was a little trinket, and sometimes a really nice toy.  I decided I was going to let him give away any of his toys he wants, to whomever he wants.  If his heart wants to share his best toys with others - why would I want to stop that . . . just so I can store them up in the attic for someone to "maybe" use 20 years from now? No, I don't want to stop his behavior . . .  I want to learn from it.

God's commands were never meant to be burdensome; instead they are an invitation for us to participate with Him in meeting the needs of others, and to experience the joys of partnering with Him through that process. James 1:27 states, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." My heart's prayer is for God to give me a true tzedakah spirit, and to help me look for opportunities to bring heaven to earth, to every place of need I encounter. When we do this, as it says in Matthew 25:45, we are actually doing it for Christ Himself.

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.