LIFELINES: LEARNING GENEROSITY
By LARRY BAKER
I think my Grandfather first taught me. I’m not sure. What I do remember is the way he treated me.
I recall some places he lived – in a white frame house on the side of a hill, “home” for a tenant farmer growing cotton and tending a garden; a rented, unpainted clapboard house a dozen miles northeast of my family home; a barracks-like building that housed an apartment during World War II when he worked at a munitions plant; and the only home he ever owned, a tiny frame building planted a couple hundred feet away from U.S. 80 on a spot of land he farmed for food and income.
You get the picture. No land baron he! He was “Granddaddy” who welcomed his grandson into his home every summer. “We” worked the farm, harvested the produce, and loaded his truck for a trek through the countryside that ended at a small grocery store in a nearby hamlet. On the way, he “peddled” his goods to folks who liked his butter beans, delighted in his sweet corn, or relished his freshly picked strawberries. At the end of each trip, he sold the remainder of the day’s produce to store owners. That, his income earned by the sweat of his brow and the strain on his back.
After a week or two, I packed for home. That visit always ended with a ritual. Granddaddy would pull out a Mason jar almost full of coins. I would count them – half-dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies. That collection: his gift to me and my “pay” for working with him. Out of each day’s sales, he put aside some coins for the grandson who had tracked him through the fields and ridden proudly beside him as he sold his goods door to door.
Any way you measure it, Granddaddy was generous with me! But, with others – family and church — as well. The table on Christmas Day was always laden with food and the tree surrounded with brightly-wrapped, but never expensive, gifts for everyone. Again, generosity! I don’t know where he learned it. I don’t know where it started but I know how it played out. The short, round-bodied man in bib overalls that I called “Granddaddy” practiced generosity when I didn’t know the meaning of the word and without ever making a big deal of it.
Lately, I have bumped into “generosity” often. One of the hottest management gurus in our time and the owner of Chic-Fil-A jointly penned a small best-selling book about it. A widely-known theologian, a noted physician-scientist, and the founder of Habitat for Humanity have as well.
Wonder why generosity has found its place in the middle of public discussion. Maybe because we are living in a “culture largely stripped of grace” as one described us. Maybe it’s an antidote to the me-myself-and-mine way of living that thinks first and only of itself. Maybe the seed of the Bible, planted but long dormant, has broken through the parched crust of American life with promise for new life. Maybe our spirits need the healing tonic. No matter the reason, celebrate the prospect of something much better than we’ve been.
Maybe those folks are onto something my grandfather knew years when I was a tow-headed, barefoot boy logging days as his summer sidekick. They, at least, sent me back across the years to think about the first person I knew who lived generosity with big-hearted deeds and simple words.
I know others. Generous people are everywhere, but we don’t tell their stories often enough. My parents, like my grandfather, were generous. Men and women in the churches I have served have been. Generous people look a lot like those first Christians who worshiped with “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They’re kin to Paul who wrapped up his counsel to Timothy urging “Command them…to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
And all look like the God who knows how to give good gifts and has poured out love to people in all walks of life. When we meet God in the Bible we meet the One with a lavish heart. God doesn’t hang on greedily to good gifts and doesn’t make deals as a way to determine who gets them Instead, God gives – “giveth and giveth and giveth” again.
On a tiny farm and along the roads of North Louisiana, I learned generosity doesn’t hinge on having much; it has to do with the way we see life and the way we parcel out what we have – experience, understanding, time, money, love.
Generosity is for every one of us. To become generous we need only two traits — a willing spirit and the courage to reach beyond ourselves.
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.