“You know, Emily was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she had done for them – and, that way she missed love.”
That statement comes from Agatha Christie, taken from her novel entitled, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.”
I was reminded by the words of Idries Shah. In “Learning How to Learn: Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way,” he wrote: “The real generosity is when a man does something generous when nobody knows about it.”
But then, the thought of Muhammad Ali also keeps coming to my mind. “I try not to speak about all the charities and people I help, because I believe we can only be truly generous when we expect nothing in return,” he wrote in “The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey.”
Generosity — that the term. “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave,” reminded American president Calvin Coolidge. “Giving is the highest of living,” added inspirational author John C. Maxwell.
“Be generous,” urged W. Clement Stone, American businessman and philanthropist. “Give to those you love; give to those who love you, give to the fortunate, give to the unfortunate — yes, give especially to those you don’t want to give. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give, the more you will have.”
A grandmother was standing in a store with a friend watching an artist demonstrate the work he was doing when she became aware that a man was staring at her. She thought he must be lonesome or that she reminded him or someone. She gave him a friendly smile.
At that he came over and with a shy smile of his own, opened the brown bag he was carrying. “I would like to give you a present,” he said without any introduction. And he put into her hand a beautifully carved little wooden horse.
He would have left right then if grandma had not insisted on asking questions. He refused to tell her his name but said that he worked as a night watchman at a factory. He carved such figures in his spare time from scrap lumber. When they were finished, he would walk along the street until he would find someone who looks as if he might like a horse, as he put it.
He explained that he had never had art lesson. “But where I come from, everyone whittles.”
Grandma’s friend, who owns a small gift shop, grew quite excited about the carving. “It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed. “If you bring several to our store, I know we can sell them for you.”
But the man shook his head. “If I sold them,” he said simply, “then making them would be just a chore. I get more pleasure this way.”
Grandma has never seen the man since. But the little horse is one of her most treasured possessions. Whenever she looks at it, she thinks of the giver and prays that the generosity of his heart and spirit has found its reward. To her, it is perfect gift. It was given to a total stranger without thought of gratitude or reward.
I am not sure if the story above is true or not but here’s a true story of Elisabeth Howard Elliot. She was born in Brussels, Belgium and was only a few months old when her family went to the United States.
She studied Classical Greek at Wheaton College, believing that it was the best tool to help her with the calling of ultimately translating the New Testament of the Bible into an unknown language. It was at Wheaton where she met a man named Jim Elliot.
Jim and Elisabeth went individually to Ecuador, as Christian missionaries, to work with the Quichua (or Quechua) Indians. In 1953, the two tied the nuptial knot in the city of Quito. Before she started work, she listened to the words of Maruja, a woman of a neighboring tribe. She was held captive for one year by the Huaorani. She stated that the tribe was fierce and they acted like savages, but she also stated that the women were likeable and kind.
Their daughter, Valerie, was 10 months old when her father was killed. “The New York Times” reported: “After Mr. Elliot and his colleagues landed by plane on Jan. 2, 1956, he kept rehearsing a message of good will — “Biti miti punimupa,” meaning “I like you, I want to be your friend” — from a Waorani phrase book. Three tribe members made a friendly visit, but then there was apparently a miscommunication or a perceived threat. After the missionaries failed to make radio contact with a base station, searchers found their bodies pierced by wooden spears.
“Ms. Elliot renewed contact with the tribe over the next two years. In 1958, accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter and the sister of one of the murdered missionaries, she moved in with the Waoranis, known to their neighbors as Aucas, or savages. She ministered to them and remained in their settlement, in the foothills of the Andes, subsisting on barbecued monkey limbs and other local fare and living in rain-swept huts.”
Maxwell, who used the story as an example of generosity, wrote: “Under those circumstances, many people in Elisabeth Elliot’s shoes would have gone home. It’s one thing to be willing to give up a comfortable life in the United States to help other people; it’s quite another to give up your spouse. But Elliot had a truly generous heart. Despite her terrible loss, she still wanted to help the people of Ecuador. She stayed and served the Quichuans with whom she was living.”
To end this piece, allow me to quote the words of Cole Ryan, author of “Money: I Think We’ve Missed the Point.” He said: “Here’s the thing: You can be materialistic and poor. You can also be content and rich. It has nothing to do with your income and it has everything to do with your heart. You don’t need to earn more money in order to be generous with your money. Some people use that as an excuse to be greedy. Jesus seemed to believe that the key to generosity wasn’t having more, but being content with what you already have.” — ###