Choose generosity

October 26, 2011

I am one of those who commute to work every day. I don’t mind the drive. It is the traffic I hate.

You can never predict it. Some days I sail into work; other days I barely crawl.

On those crawling days, which are all too frequent, I find myself becoming increasingly impatient and frustrated, especially when we are stopped on the freeway for no apparent reason. I can understand how road rage happens.

A presenter in a recent workshop on resiliency said this: “Life is not more stressful now than in years past. An early settler making it through a Minnesota winter experienced extreme stress. What is different now is that our stress is unremitting. We have no recovery time and our fight-or-flight response stays in a heightened state.”

Anxiety, impatience, anger, frustration all live close to the surface in our world and lives. Because of that I am trying to cultivate the spiritual practice of generosity.

Generous assumptions

We often attach the word generosity to money. But it is so much more than that. An aspect of generosity that I find to be central is to assume the best of each other.

When someone cuts in front of me on the road, instead of muttering under my breath about their driving habits I challenge myself to assume that perhaps they just didn’t see me or they were late for something really important. When someone does something that I find hurtful, I try to assume that they did not intentionally mean to hurt me and try to let go of whatever grudge I may be nurturing.

When someone disagrees with me about something I care deeply about, I try to assume they are a thoughtful, caring person who just sees the world differently than I do. When someone is pushing my buttons and I find myself getting angry, I try to take a breath and assume their actions might be a reflection of something happening in their life and to take time to listen.

How God sees us

Assuming the best of each other is a willingness to see the other person as God sees all of us: imperfect, growing people who are beloved and of sacred worth. It means being generous in my attitude toward them, in my interpretation of their actions, and in my words.

And when I am able to do that, I discover, as Anne Lamott once wrote, that the moment goes from cramped to wide and spacious. God’s grace moves in.

This is important not simply because God calls us to be generous, but because I like who I am and how I feel when I am generous in spirit. I am more joyful. My relationships are enriched. And the world just seems like a brighter place.

Interestingly, generosity breeds generosity. People smile more and treat each other better. Life might still be stressful but we laugh and love a whole lot more.

Being generous in spirit does not just happen. It is not just that some people are wired to be generous and others don’t have that gift. Rather, it is a choice that we can make every day in most every situation.

How do I want to be in this moment and what way will I live in the world? Am I going to be generous toward others—and toward myself, for that matter? Or am I going to be scrooge-like?

I believe our thoughts shape our soul and our actions shape our world. So it matters how I respond to the stresses of life—for my own life and for the world’s sake. I don’t always get it right, and that is why I say it is a practice I am trying to cultivate.

Generosity of spirit is possible. We just have to choose it.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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