“Why not give more?” This isn’t a fundraising call or a guilt trip or an opportunity to sign up for your VBS volunteer spot. It’s an invitation to pause. How do we discern our yeses and our nos? At any given moment, we have PLENTY of legitimate reasons why our time or treasure is presently unavailable. That’s a healthy management of our boundaries and prioritization of our attention. And alongside those personal decisions, we have littles learning to navigate that exact same balance.
How do we encourage, model, and enable generosity in our children?
Saint Joseph is one of the most recognizable historical figures from the Bible, especially with Mary on his arm and a cargo-toting donkey by his side. His experience offers many contemporary exemplars for how compassion, flexibility, a sense of responsibility, and grit feed our inclinations to be generous.
When Joseph found out Mary was expecting a child, he planned on discreetly divorcing her, even making arrangements for her to live elsewhere to avoid shame, at best, and death by stoning at worst. Then an angel came along, providing Joseph some backstory. In the face of disappointment, maybe embarrassment, and certainly unexpected complications to their new relationship, Joseph made a decision built on compassion. Joseph gave.
“Actually, Joseph, you need to double down on your commitment and marriage to Mary and adopt the child as your own,” said the angel (paraphrased). So, built on his reverence for God, Joseph accepts his role as “legal father,” “foster father,” or maybe just “father,” snags a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting from their local Little Free Library, and leans in, modeling generosity amidst what had to be confusion. Built on overwhelming faith and some grit against what others might say about their circumstances, Joseph gave some more.
Getting that miracle Baby Jesus into the world was no small feat. We read about how, when Joseph had exactly nothing to give, one innkeeper’s generosity provided a stable and shelter for a baby’s birth.
Fast forward a few months, Joseph’s generosity is called on again: Leave everyone and everything and get out of town. All for this baby, who, if we’re honest, has been a bit inconvenient from the start. Built on the responsibility Joseph feels for this King, this Savior, this baby in his life, he gave a little more, and the fam headed to Egypt to wait out the storm.
When we look at Joseph’s life, generosity starts to look a lot like sacrifice. But, I argue that his generosity grows out of a foundation of these other positive, forward-oriented virtues rather than through a lens of what he’s giving up or the risks he takes by being generous.
So, what does this look like for us as parents? Is it practical to call sharing our toys with siblings “inviting someone to play with you?” Or when Dad reaches over for some of those Goldfish, calling it “sharing a snack?” What if, when we are out and about, we slow down, step aside, and open the door for someone. It may only be a gift of a moment of our time, but in this small gesture, that other person has felt seen. This is true too when we call an old friend or check on a loved one.
Does our compassion for others lead us to exercise our generosity by dropping a donation in Go Fund Me? Buying extra Kleenex for the teacher’s classroom? Serving those experiencing homelessness in a shelter where they are?
How do we handle the surprises in life? What do our children see? When family life is challenging—loss of a relationship through death, divorce, or disagreement, loss of financial stability and security, or loss of opportunity, when an answer is a resounding no to making the team, getting the gig, or applying for the job—how do we push on with generosity? When life is momentarily sucked out of us, can we find another way forward? How can we give more? Because when we give, there is joy.
Like Joseph, we can love those who land in our lives. When we spend time, even a moment, giving our attention to someone else, it’s a gift. It can be a new neighbor, a classmate who needs a friend, an overwhelmed teacher whose discipline feels inconsistent, stepparents, a grumpy grandparent facing senility, or a stranger who is clearly in more of a hurry than we are at that crosswalk, yellow light, or the store we’re walking into.
Generosity doesn’t have to be seen as sacrifice; we can be generous because we found a “why.” Because we want to offer care, we want to help, we see a need, we press on because we can. We give more because we can. And when we can’t, because sometimes we just can’t, hopefully, there is someone nearby who is wondering, “Why not give more?”