Friday, December 10, 2010

The Spirit of Giving

by Lynn McFarland

Monday December 6 was the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, near the Mediterranean Sea, in the 4th Century. He was born into the wealthy merchant class and his family enjoyed many riches along their journey. Nicholas, however, was taught from a young age that being generous to others and giving of oneself was the greatest wealth of all. He would throw bags of gold into the windows of towns’ people who were poor or who had lost their life’s wages when their businesses failed; never did he let them know his identity.

One evening, a businessman who had lost everything waited to see if another bag of gold would fall through his window as it had the year before, when it did, he raced outside to catch this angel, only to recognize him as Nicholas, the wealthy merchant. “Why did you give us this gold?” asked the man. “Because you needed it” answered Nicholas. “But why didn’t you let us know who you were?” asked the man. Nicholas said in reply, “it is good to give and have only God know about it.”
In this season of commercialism, it is hard to have the heart of St. Nicholas. To give away our riches solely because someone else needs them more than we do; it’s a very rare and powerful position to be in when we live the old adage to ‘give from the heart’. It sounds like a cliché, and it is because by the very definition of the word cliché, this old phrase has been overused to the point that it has lost its meaning.

When was the last time you made a monetary donation without expecting a receipt for tax purposes? When was the last time you were given a gift without knowing who it came from? It is lovely to be recognized for our philanthropic endeavors, it makes us feel good that when we have the means to give, we usually do, and other’s perception of us is that we are kind-hearted and generous people, they think we may even believe in something bigger than ourselves; a worthy cause. Our gifts make a difference and everyone knows about them as our names are printed in Annual Reports, on plaques and walls, by invitations to more events etc. Rarely do we give anonymously as St. Nicholas did; we want people to know our identity. This is not to say it’s selfish to be thanked by others, many times we want people to know we have given, not to increase our ego, but so they know where to come if they need help in the future, our gifts are something they can count on and they do make a true difference in the lives of other people.

During this season of Advent, consider giving without reward or recognition. Drop blankets off to the homeless, donate to Goodwill and don’t ask for a receipt, buy your neighbor cookies and leave them on their front porch in secrecy, give teddy bears to a local children’s hospital or school supplies to a school; but do all of these things with the heart of St. Nicholas!

St. Nicholas lives on in our modern day Santa Claus, the idea that people will receive gifts from Santa without seeing him is a widely accepted concept. Of course Santa comes down the chimney, toys are made by elves and reindeer fly all around the world in one night; magical! More importantly, let’s focus on the fact that being Santa for someone else requires that we be invisible. Give without being seen or known, this is the real gift of the Christmas Season.

In the spirit of St. Nicholas, be present to others, give without reward and recognize that when God is the only one who knows you’re giving, you are ‘giving from the heart’!