Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting and giving

Today’s world is very focused on getting. Our media is full of advertisements trying to persuade us to get things. Many of us want to be rich because of all the things we would then be able to get. We judge lives by how much stuff people have gotten. When people say someone has done well for themselves, it’s usually because they have got a high-paying job, a good house and good investments.

But things don’t need to have a dollar symbol attached, to be part of our culture of getting. A look at anyone’s to-do list will reveal a wide range of gets. We want to get fit, get married, get pregnant, get a boyfriend, get more friends, get famous, get a university degree, get a trophy.

And when we are feeling miserable about our lives, what are we usually upset about? What we haven’t got. We haven’t received the love, the friendship, the opportunities, the beauty, the money, the accomplishments, the treatment we deserve. We wanted to have gotten more and we’re annoyed that we didn’t. 

Some churches have also jumped on the getting bandwagon. They tell Christians about all the things they can get if they pray. They tell them that God wants them to get that job, get more money, get healed. We pay a lot of attention to “For everyone who asks receives”.  Not so much to Act 20, where Paul tells us that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Whatever happened to that? Was is just something that worked well in Jesus’ day, but isn’t really applicable in today’s consumer culture? I don’t know so. I’m pretty sure the idea seemed just as strange then as it does now. But it’s often the things that seem the strangest that have the most to teach us.

It’s a completely different way of measuring things than the one we are used to. We are taught to believe that how much stuff a person has and how much we get is what’s important. To place more value on giving completely turns things around.

It’s kind of hard to get our heads around. We may say it. We may even believe it. But do we live like this? When we go to bed at night, are we thinking of all the ways we gave? Or are we thinking about all the things we failed to get, all the things we did get and all the things we want to get tomorrow? When we write out our goals, are they all about giving? Or do most of them revolve around getting? When we think about accomplishments, do we think of the things we gave or do we think of the ways we got?

So it’s not quite gospel truth – but Acts is pretty close and Paul did say that Jesus said it. So taking it as gospel truth, how does that change the way we think about our lives? Do we think differently about what ourselves and others have achieved? Does it change our goals and priorities at all? Does it make us see that what we thought was important really isn’t that important after all?

And it works. This isn’t just something that looks good in the bible, but fails to work out in real life. It really works. A parent receives much joy from their relationship with their children – even though it is a relationship that involves lots of giving and not much getting. When I feel down, I have found the best way to cheer me up is to go out and help someone – and I’m sure I’m not alone. The happiest people are often those that are in jobs that involve lots of giving. The unhappiest people are generally the most selfish ones.

So why not try it? Cross out a few gets on your goals list and replace them with some gives. Think about your accomplishments only in terms of what you gave. Try to give more love than you receive. And if you’re feeling down, forget about cheering yourself up with a spending spree. Try a giving spree instead.

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