Is Generosity Ever Wrong?

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giving change

How would you react if you offered to be generous to someone in need, only to find out that they weren’t really in need at all?

I ask because this happened to me recently. Someone offered to buy my kids some hot chocolate.

Oh, were you thinking that I was the generous one? Well, I do try to be a generous person; but more and more I run into instances where someone is trying to be generous to me.

And I don’t like it.

No that sounds terrible, I really do really love it, but I hate how it makes me feel. Wait… what? I’m making no sense.

Example time.

I was biking the kids to school one morning and a lady came running out of a gas station at us to offer to buy us bus passes. It was an extremely sweet and generous offer. And not only was she willing to shell out the cash– she was willing to leave her warm post and hunt us down to offer it!

For half a second I thought about what it would be like to accept just so she can be happy about her kindness.

But I feel terrible because I had to tell her no because I would be a terrible person if I accepted her offer. You see, she thought we were needy. She thought that we biked past her place of employment every day because we had no choice because, really, who would willingly bike in the snow?

But I had to tell her the truth and ruin her good deed. I somehow had to tell her that we had access to, not one, but THREE working vehicles. I had to tell her that we have plenty of money, both in cash and credit, to purchase bus passes easily if we need them. I somehow had to convey in one short sentence that our biking is not due to need—at least monetary need. That what we are in need of is: Exercise. Together time. Personal discipline. A simpler life. Self-reliance. A healthier planet. Contentment. Etc.

Would you be surprised to learn that this family is actually worth billions of dollars?! Hey, maybe. I just found the pic on the internet. : P

Would you be surprised to learn that this family is actually worth billions of dollars?! Hey, maybe. I just found the pic on the internet. I do know they look pretty cool, both figuratively and literally. : P

And somehow I had to tell her all this. Here’s one sentence that would encapsulate it all: “Sorry lady, I’m actually quite rich compared to the rest of the world and we do this because this is the best way to do it; so it looks like you have it all wrong, especially if you don’t bike yourself.”

I’m a jerk.

But I’m NOT a jerk, really. I really do love the offer. I love the kindness of strangers. In fact, one of the reasons I love to bike is that I feel more connected to the community. There’s less metal and glass blocking me off from everyone else. I make MUCH more eye contact with people when I’m biking. When I drive, they’re cars. When I bike, they’re people.

So, Dear lady, I am happy to meet you. I am beyond touched at the sweetness of your offer to us total strangers. You don’t know us and yet you care enough about us to want to help us. I appreciate that so much. Please don’t take my rejection of your offer as a rejection of you. Please understand that your offer, though well thought out, does not really apply in my situation once you know the whole truth. I hope you can realize with what joy we bike (although when we meet you we are just finishing coming to the top of a long hill and are a little sweaty and winded); and I hope you can also find joy in realizing that we share this little part of the planet. Be sure to wave when you see us bike by tomorrow, I’ll be watching for you. That is what I would like to say.

Here’s what I did say:
*big over zealous smile to try and portray my delight but probably came off more creepy clown-like*

“Oh, thank you so much but we bike for fun, right guys?”

*Kids pant out a tired “yeah” after coming up the hill.*

 I have not done this lady’s generosity justice.

But this is the time of year where we are reminded more and more about giving and generosity. We give piles of gifts; and, if you can’t afford them, numerous organizations have been collecting like mad to give you piles of gifts free of charge so you’re not left out of the gifting process.

But it’s hard to receive sometimes, isn’t it?

Either we don’t feel worthy (my problem) or we don’t feel understood (also my problem.)

So here’s my open letter to EVERYONE. I am not worthy and it’s okay if you don’t understand me. I am letting you all know right now so you’re not put off by my weird, off the cuff reaction. I just don’t want you to feel tricked. I’m not trying to trick you. I don’t live by normal social rules for other reasons. Not to make you feel bad for me so I can get a free meal and then laugh manically later when I put the money I saved on lunch into my huge vault of gold bars. “Ha, ha, ha, got another free lunch. What a stooge. More now for me!”

So, should we be more cautious in our giving to stay away from the character I just described? I keep thinking about the Bible verse, let’s see (internet to the rescue)… Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

No, I am not saying that I’m an angel. I am saying that we are supposed to be kind to strangers and they may even not really have any need at all. You see, it’s the GIVING that’s on you. Just the act of giving. What is done after it’s received is all on the recipient.

I promise to do my best not to intentionally dupe you and I also understand what a great thing it is to be on the giving end. I don’t want to take that from you. So give. Please give. Willingly and freely give.  Just understand, you might find that the person you’ve given to is actually not as needy as you might think. That’s okay. In this world you’ll have plenty of opportunities to give and still 99.9% of the time whomever is on the receiving end will be blessed by it—even if it’s not really what they need.

So what about you? Have you ever found yourself as an unwitting target of charity? How do you feel? How do you respond?


photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/2079071542/”>Leo Reynolds</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/calgarycyclechic/10525864054/”>Calgary Cycle Chic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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4 thoughts on “Is Generosity Ever Wrong?

  1. Tarynkay

    That is such a sweet story about the lady offering to buy you a bus pass!

    We were at a Juneteenth festival once and an older couple asked if they could buy an Italian ice for our son. He was about 18 months at the time. I honestly don’t know who enjoyed it more. He LOVED eating it and they LOVED watching him eat it. They said that he was about the same age as their grandson who lived far away.

    Anyhow, we definitely could have afforded to buy it for him ourselves, but I don’t think their offer was about our perceived need at all. Usually when people offer to buy kids treats, I think it is more about wanting to enjoy giving the kid a treat than the parents’ perceived financial need. Similarly, if I treat a friend to coffee or lunch, that isn’t because I think she’s broke. It’s just because it is fun to treat a friend. That is different from the bus pass lady- it sounds like she really thought you needed some help. That is still a really kind impulse, and I think you responded well.

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    • See, I need to remind myself all the time not to take away someone’s joy in giving. The couple with the Italian ice is a perfect example. That sounds super sweet. I love when grandparents start spreading their grandparentness around because they just can’t contain it anymore. : )

      I always get caught up in, “but I’m not really in need and I don’t want to take away from you.” But if I don’t allow them to give, they don’t get that joy. Then I’M the selfish one.

      I did turn down the hot chocolate guy. His offer may have been, “I see you have a need” based, because we had stopped our bike ride to let the oldest put up his hood. The guys watched us talk about how cold it was and I think he wanted to heat us up. Either way, we didn’t have time to stop since we were on the way to school. But we thanked him profusely anyway.

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  2. I don’t always accept offers but in most cases I’ve come to accept the generosity of others even though I usually don’t need it. My thinking is that this person is trying to be helpful and feels a genuine desire to be generous. If I deny them of following through on that, I’ll be robbing them of the internal blessing they would naturally receive by helping someone. I feel really good on the inside when I help someone. If I turn down their offer I’m keeping them from feeling that way also. It’s like I’m shot-blocking their generosity.

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    • Exactly. This isn’t a competition on who is most independent. No shot-blocking allowed.

      It reminds me of an interaction my husband had with a neighbor. (One that repeats itself in different forms all the time.) My husband fixed the neighbor’s brakes for him and, being the generous guy he is, wanted to do it for free. The neighbor, being the generous guy he is, wanted to pay my husband for the service. They went back and forth so many times and both tried to call me in on their side.

      I think we ended up taking the money but using it to give to someone else. We’ve done that a bit- re-gifting generosity. We were reading Acts last night and the last part of chapter 4 shows what generosity looks like. (The beginning of chapter 3 had even more truths about money too. It’s everywhere!) As I sat explaining things to the kids it hit me as odd that I now consider myself a PF blogger and there I was, trying to impress on my kids how unimportant money is. It’s really great. ; ) Wondrously weird even. : P

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