In American mainline denomination life, we recently wrapped up “stewardship season.” My congregation held it a little later than normal this year—it’s usually October-ish—for a handful of reasons particular to us, but we still held it (celebrated it? can Americans say that?), tossing our pledge cards into the baskets on the floor as usual.
It was our lead pastor’s first giving season with us, so he told us the story of how he (and his sweetie) evolved in their giving behavior, from oh-HECK-no to only-if-I-approve to the unfettered way they now approach their giving. What caught my ear was how he described their emotions during that last shift.
The less tightly they focused on the idea of “MY money,” the lighter and happier they felt. The more they gave, the lighter and happier they felt.
And they still made their usual lives work in the usual ways. No sense of belt-tightening or imminent doom… just delight in sharing with a community they loved for a purpose they treasured.
I’ve heard this tale from many, many others, too. It’s profoundly counter-intuitive in American society, but it comes up too often to be a special accident for the pastorally called. Besides, not everyone who’s told me the story leads a congregation, or is the Apostle Paul… or Jesus, as quoted in the New Testament.
When I think of money lightly, my heart is lighter, too. (Not when I treat my money lightly—I did that when I was in my 20s, and it went very, very poorly!)
Here’s what fascinates me: contemporary research, apparently untethered to Christian belief or practice, steadily confirms this as a human truth! So not only is it a good way for Christians to live, but it’s wired into our deepest selves.
Read more for yourself; these are bite-sized:
Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier (Time Magazine, July 14, 2017)
“[R]esearchers say they’ve discovered that even thinking about doing something generous has real mood-boosting benefits in the brain.”
Generous people live happier lives (Science Daily, July 11, 2017)
Generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little generous. People who act solely out of self-interest are less happy. Merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brains that makes us happier, neuroeconomists found in a recent study.
Research Suggests Generosity Is Hardwired Into Our Brains (NPR: Hidden Brain, December 24, 2014)
“Experiments by Aknin, List and others are starting to unlock the mechanisms that link generosity with happiness. The study with toddlers suggest that being generous isn’t merely something we learn to do. The impulse to generosity seems hardwired in our brains.”
What I learn in my congregational life is that, while giving like the Christmas kind works to an extent, it is the kind of giving (or tzedakah) that the ancient rabbis taught—give quietly, give freely, give without strings—that unleashes the inner blessings that God intended for us.
Everything we hold or see is a gift. And if it’s all a gift, then we must be at a party… so let’s celebrate, together!