Some thoughts to consider as you are bombarded with many ways to “give-back” in these final weeks of 2016. (including from us!)
The other day I saw an ad in my Facebook feed from a local food pantry that said: “Feel Better – Make a Donation.” It reminded me that #GivingTuesday is right around the corner! This is a day, after Black Friday and Cyber Monday when the non-profit world invites you to detox from all the consumerism and spend a day giving back.
In a country where the long hidden divisions among us are no longer hiding, and there are measurable increases in anxiety, fear, suicidal thoughts and actual acts of violence and hate – “feeling better” is something a lot of us would like to experience.
However, I am confident that a financial donation to your local food pantry or charity of choice, while maybe providing you a little moment of satisfaction, will in no way heal the pain and fear we are surrounded by. Not for you, and not for others. Yes, people will be fed and clothed this holiday season thanks to acts of financial and in-kind generosity, and that is necessary! However, sustainable change requires much more than writing checks for all of us.
Please understand that I run a non-profit that exists on checks written by dozens of financial partners. Our ability to sustain the life we live here is directly sourced by these contributions. So I am not just standing on the sidelines critiquing. What I am about to say is central to how I try to live and lead with integrity – the following belief is the only way I can look our donors in the eye and truly invite them on this journey together.
At the heart of the brokenness in our communities are two lies: we are not responsible to be agents of restoration or we are not able to be agents of restoration in our communities. We either do not feel that it is our job to care for the “other” and the marginalized, or we feel incapable of doing anything meaningful. Often we have a mixture of both lies that keep us paralyzed from contributing much more than financial or material resources to the organizations and professionals set up around to help.
Please hear me clearly – these organizations are good and necessary! They will not heal our hearts though, and our hearts are broken. If the fall-out around you has broken your heart this year, writing a check or organizing a food drive will not make you “feel better.” If, however, the fall-out has made you uncomfortable, then writing a check very well might make you feel better. Sadly though, it might also ease the tension you feel that you are made for something more and keep you from sitting in that discomfort Sitting with that discomfort is the path to a broken heart that can then be healed.
The roots of the evil in our society, and in our own hearts have been exposed and they are much harder to combat than hunger and nakedness. They are wounds that are hardest to heal because they require much more from us than we’ve been asked to give. The non-profit world has failed* us by creating systems that do the good and necessary work, while asking us only to do some service projects or contribute some materials so that they can live out their mission. At there best, most non-profits invite us to take a close look at the work they are doing, so we can celebrate the impact of our donations. However, there is rarely an organization designed to cultivate a different way of living within the lives of it’s donors. The church too has failed* us, often encouraging us to write larger and more “sacrificial” checks, but neglecting to remind us that the call of Christ is the call of the cross – to lay down our very lives for our neighbors.
So friends, I am not asking you to abstain from giving this holiday season, in fact, I invite you to give more than you ever have before! Get creative and dig deep! I am a huge fan of giving on all levels! What I AM asking you to do is to self-give. Here are three practical ways:
1. As you write a check to your favorite non-profit, ask yourself how the mission of the organization you support can be lived out in your daily life. If you aren’t sure, ask the organization. Hold them accountable to not just taking your money, but helping you live a life of restoration too! It’s not just the professionals who get to be part of all the great stuff!
2. Well-intended generosity often reinforces the barriers between people with and without resources; it also rarely challenges us to consider other worldviews. Find a way to meet on level ground with those different from you. Actively listen to the family member at Thanksgiving who voted differently than you. Seek to understand the fears and needs of those with opposing political or social views. Look past the choices of those you encounter or serve, and focus on their humanity and vulnerability, considering the experiences they’ve had and challenges they’ve faced. If possible, host a dinner for people who are not your friends and family this year. Invite a stranger, or someone who you know is alone into your holiday plans. Take the time to join or observe a local protest or boycott that is raising awareness of injustice, have coffee with people you meet there and hear their stories.
3. As you write your year-end tax-exempt checks, create goals for self-giving next year. Don’t wait until the last weeks of the year to give, use the week between Christmas and New Years to draft 12 ways you can get uncomfortable in 2017 with your generosity!
Charity is great and has it’s place, but what we need this season of “giving” is a call to self-giving.
As a founder and Executive Director of a non-profit, I confess that I do not live up to my own standards, but I believe wholeheartedly that we MUST empower EVERY person to become people of compassion and justice, restoration and reconciliation. We cannot allow the professionals to do the dirty work – or else our hearts will never heal, and our communities have no hope.
Do not settle for being inspired by others this holiday season – be an inspiration by practicing self-giving.
(If this makes you feel confused or you don’t know where to start, contact me and let’s talk! I want to help, not just stir the pot! You can do this!)