How Much Should We Give?

It’s that time of year—Salvation Army workers stand by their kettles at store entrances, ringing their bells, soliciting contributions that the Salvation Army says make up a major amount of their funds every year. People drop in change or a bill as they pass.

At my particular grocery, there’s always a worker with his kettle. I was behind a woman with a small child going up to the door the other day. The woman stopped and handed the child some change to put into the kettle. He put a few coins in and then looked backed at her, saying “How much should we give?”

That struck me. How much should we give, indeed? When we have a certain amount of money in our pockets or purses, how much of it should we keep for ourselves or give to others? Along with financial donations, we also have other things to give, such as time, effort and emotion. How much of that, as well, should we spend on others?

A lady called the other day with what I know will be one of the main concerns during this holiday season. She was already dreading the thought of cooking holiday dinners for her big family (plus extended members). Then there’s the holiday cleaning that goes with all the entertaining she felt compelled to do. Add in the shopping, the hurt feelings that always seem to surface in others that needed to be smoothed over at this time and the conflict that she was having already in her marriage, and she wondered if she would survive it all. She was giving so much already that it hurt.

Does the giving of our time, energy, effort and financial resources have to be so painful for us? To be good people in our minds, do we need to suffer while we do for others, or is there a smoother, less trying way for us? Why does doing good things sometimes seem so hard?

We let ourselves get out of balance, especially during this time of year. We want to share with others, our friends, our relatives and strangers in need. It’s a part of what many of us are—this wanting to give what we have. But the truth is that sometimes we give and give until there’s nothing left for ourselves or those closest to us. It’s easy to do this, especially with our time and energy. And quite often, we do the part of others, as well. How many of you end up cooking the whole Christmas dinner when it was supposedly potluck? You want to give of yourself, but unfortunately, this willingness sometimes enables others to avoid their own chance to contribute. This can particularly be obvious in the holidays.

What I saw, for the lady above, was that first of all, she needed to communicate honestly with others, her husband, her family and her friends, what she felt able to do, and ask for their assistance in accomplishing mutual goals. A family dinner should not turn into a grueling task that ends, for her, in exhaustion and resentment. She should ask for what she needs, and let those closest give it to her.

I saw that by trying to give all that she was giving to others, she was depriving them of the opportunity to give of themselves. She needed to invite their help and give them an opportunity to invest personally in meaningful events.

I learned this myself, a few years ago. I usually prepared all the holiday dinners for my family. For these events, there was always the “extra” cleaning I felt I needed to do (which seemed to evolve into a full “spring-cleaning” type of thing.) By the time my family all arrived, I was just exhausted and wanted the whole thing to be over. After some years of this, I finally recognized that I was not contributing to a holiday by being, basically, a martyr. A solution presented itself upon discussion with my sister-in-law. She enjoyed (very strangely, to my way of thinking) cleaning and getting her home ready for company visits, but suffered anxiety attacks at the thought of cooking for so many people. I, on the other hand, despised this extra housework but thoroughly enjoyed the cooking. Our solution was for me to cook and transport all the food to her house (which she had spic and span.)

How much should we give? The answer I see is that each individual must decide for himself what that amount may be. If we put ourselves in the place of others, the answer comes much more easily. But whatever we decide to give, whether it be money or time, we should not feel taken for granted or abused. In so many ways, the manner in which we give freely with a light heart and without calculation is what counts most of all. This attitude of joy is what we can decide for ourselves in our giving.

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