The act of Generosity for today was to share Chocolate. Which of course I have zero problem with as chocolate is one of my most favourite things, and why wouldn’t you share some of that. And in it’s variety, it is a picture of the various levels of connection we have. Which takes me back to the circles of influence that we considered on day one.
Because one of the things I love about the 40 acts process, the idea behind it is that is the simple ordinary every day things that allow us to show kindness, generosity and love to all those levels of contact. And I’m reminded that actually, this is how we’re called by our master, our Rabbi, our teacher, to behave towards everyone we meet day to day every day. And I’m reminded that the traditional self-discipline of Lent is a way of training ourselves to self discipline in the every day, in the days beyond Lent. That’s why I love the guys at 40 Acts, because what they’re doing (and I’m aware of the irony that on some level this is about ME, and what I get out of it) is almost being my personal trainers in the Marathon of others-centredness. Because every behaviour can become habitual – like training for a marathon, your body becomes used to the effort and the stamina and the muscles become hardened and your lungs become fuller. And that’s all that Lent is about, making generosity and kindness habitual so that once we leave the “safe” period of Lent, then kindness, generosity, gentleness, gratitude – all these things become normal. Because as a follower of Jesus, I believe these should be the normal.
And then I’m pulled back to that picture of my circles of friendship. And it challenges me to think about where I need to put my energies, where I should marshal my strength. For it is lovely and kind and wonderful to surprise strangers with chocolate. It’s a blessing and encouragement to semi-acquainted workmates (and some who are closer) to share encouraging quotes to build them up. It makes me feel good to let someone else go first in the queue or pay for their brew…. And it’s all what I’m called to do. But what good is it if I bless strangers and do not thank those in those two inner circles? Is it love that motivates me to be kind to a stranger, but indifferent to my intimate and inner circle? Or do I concentrate on the little things for strangers because it’s easy and it makes me feel good to be “nice”?
If I want to truly embrace the heart of generosity, the real meaning behind the 40 acts of Lent – and the kindness, love and generosity I believe I’m called to by Jesus – then I need to do both. I need to show love to all levels of my circle. To strangers and dear ones. To the homeless on the street (who I may give a cup of tea or a tenner or a KFC to) and to those who offer home and heart to me. To the violent enemies who would tear down all I believe and to the ones who have helped me build up all that I am. And I remember that Jesus too had circles, had different levels of relationship, had a small group that he relied on and related to differently than his other friends and disciples. He didn’t love them any more or less, at least I don’t thing so. He just had a deeper relationship with some than with others. And that’s okay.
So I’m not going to ignore the stranger, or the homeless man, or my enemies – but I’m not going to give them more energy than I should (or am able to). And I’m not going to feel I’ve “done my bit for the day” just because I let another driver into my lane of the motorway. But I will choose to form the habit of throwing myself into deliberate, costly, sacrificial, funny, uplifting, wise and generous friendships. Be brave enough to join me? And let’s train for this Generous and Loving Marathon together.