Two weeks into Lent and it’s fair to say my 40acts generosity experience has been a bumpy one. There was the initial burst of excitement and enthusiasm in week one – I listened, shared food, met emergency needs, gave cold hard cash, put others first, raised my cleaning game and more.
And then, this week, the reality has kicked in. Lent is a really long time. I’ve barely made a dent in the 40 acts so far and already, despite those first few adrenaline-fuelled acts of generosity, I’m slipping behind.
You see, as much as I’m doing my best to complete my one generous act each day, it’s fair to say that there have been just as many failures as successes so far, and we’re just a quarter of the way through. I’ve missed more opportunities than I’ve taken, I’ve wimped out when my comfort levels have been stretched too far and I’ve just been plain lazy at times.
I’ve also had the immense privilege of a behind-the-scenes look into what everyone else in the 40acts community has been doing – seeing the email, social media and WhatsApp messages coming flooding in each day with photos, videos and stories of people putting their faith into action through their giving each day.
Lent is the period for self-examination and I’ve been personally challenged to consider the breadth and depths of my generosity, especially while walking this path with so many others. And right now I’m struck by how quickly and easily we can overcomplicate our generosity, overthink it and over-worry.
What if my gift is rejected? What if it won’t be good enough? What if nobody notices? What if I cause offence? Will it really make difference?
If our generosity gets trapped by our own delusions of grandeur, or fear of failure, it’s all for nothing. Our gifts remain ungiven – our life unshared.
Justin Welby, speaking on the refugee crisis in September last year, said: “We can’t do what we can’t do, but we must do what we can.”
When it comes to our giving, there’s a whole load of truth in those words.
And sometimes it starts by acknowledging and letting go of what we can’t do, in order to crack on and do what we can.
Jesus said: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it for me.”
There’s a lot of debate about who ‘the least of these’ are – was Jesus talking about the Jewish people? Or literally, those in dire need in the community at the time? Or even his disciples?
Amid the debate, it’s easy to overlook that one word ‘whatever’ at the start.
It means whatever is in our hand, heart or head right now.
Not what might be, but what is already.
Not what I might have in future, but what I do have right now.
Jesus didn’t say: “When you dreamt of feeding every homeless person in your community, you did it for me.”
Ideas don’t heal the sick. Dreams don’t feed the hungry.
Jesus also didn’t say: “When you’ve rehomed every person in the refugee camps in Calais, you’ve done it for me” or “when you’ve saved every child at risk of disease in the developing world” or “when you’ve shut down every international child trafficking ring…” – you get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong – if you did all those things then I’m fairly sure all of heaven would be screaming and fist-pumping with joy. And I’m all for having a big vision and dreams of how we can create heaven on earth sooner rather than later.
The scale and ambition of our giving is all for nothing if it paralyses us from taking action and being generous today.
The stories that stand out from the 40acts community are often so simple, so tiny, and yet lead to some incredible testimonies as a result. The chocolate bar left out for the postman, the note of encouragement pinned to the staff noticeboard, the anonymous gift of cash slipped through the letterbox. All examples of people doing ‘whatever’ they can, right now, for those in need around them.
I might not follow today’s 40acts challenge to the letter, but that’s ok.
Whatever I do, Jesus is happy with ‘whatever’.
We must do and give what we can, not what we can’t.