Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Never Mind the Joneses

Tim Stafford

I’m not totally stingy, but I’m ambivalent about generosity. Most people are, and it comes out when they raise their kids. We parents battle to get them to think ahead. We want them to plan, to think through consequences, not to waste money or to be careless with possessions. So we react when we see our children acting generous. I can’t easily tell what is carelessness and what is real generosity. (Especially since kids are generous with possessions that we, the parents, provide.)

For example, I remember a period when my daughter Katie gave lots of kids rides home from school. She sacrificed a significant chunk of her time, and she burned up a lot of gas. Rather than congratulating her on her generosity, I felt immediate concern that other kids were taking advantage of her.

We parents take risks when we let our children act generous. We must accept that some of our hard-earned money might be wasted. In fact, we can be sure it will. That is the cost of generosity.

When I lived in Kenya I thought a lot about the risks of generosity. Genuinely hungry and needy people lived near me in vast numbers. Yet plenty of crooks and swindlers also worked on guilt-stricken, compassionate Westerners. They typically concentrated on tourists, but sometimes they got me too. With such great needs so close and real, these swindles struck me as obscene. I hated to discover that I’d been taken. Yet I couldn’t always tell the real thing from the fake – sometimes not even long afterwards.

My choice came to this: either I had to stop giving altogether, or I had to accept that whenever I gave to anybody, I took a chance of being conned. I eventually arrived at this maxim: ‘I would rather be cheated a hundred times than have a heart of stone.’

From chapter 9 of Never Mind the Joneses – building Christian values into your family, published by Authentic Media 2004
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