by Alyson Hankwitz
Much like we heard last week, my journey of growing in generosity started out of an obligation. My sister and I were required to give one whole dollar out of our weekly allowance to church, and in return, we got to keep the other four dollars. Not a bad deal when you’re ten. While in undergrad, I gave to my school’s university ministry, and in return, went on some fairly transformational service trips. When I started my first job with a real salary, I began investing in a retirement account, and in return received the employer match. Oftentimes, we give money in order to personally get something in return, to get a reward, an experience, a return on our investment. But what about giving our own money and getting nothing personal in return?
Regular giving started for me a few years back, I just thought I should do it, so I chose a few spots to put my money towards: one, St. Luke’s, another, the program with which I did a year of service, and last, a program I traveled to Kenya with. To be honest, I was fairly petty about it, only giving amounts that I wouldn’t notice coming out of my bank account, amounts that wouldn’t inhibit me from spending in other areas or require me to adjust my lifestyle. But let me tell you, I was real proud. I was working in a nonprofit, didn’t have much savings, didn’t own a car or a house, and was dishing out way too much for rent each month. I thought that I didn’t have enough to give generously, and was giving out of obligation and a mindset of scarcity. But there I was, a monthly donor, and I felt good.
About a year ago, my dear friend, a staff member at Crossroads Fund, invited me to participate in the Giving Project, and unknowingly shatter this feel good self I had been building up. The Giving Project brings together an intergenerational, cross-race, cross-class, and cross-identity cohort for community building, political education, fundraising, and grantmaking to support on-the-ground groups organizing for systems change in Chicago. Some of you may remember me talking about this in an announcement here at St. Luke’s this past spring. I casually signed up for it thinking it would be a good resume builder, not in the least imagining it would would start 6 months of thinking about money way more than I care to admit and radically shifting how I view money in my own life. As a part of Giving Project, each participant is asked to make a “meaningful gift”, aka, a self-determined donation amount to our overall fundraising goal. In my cohort? These personal gifts ranged from $50 to $10,000 from each person. In my own deliberation of how much to give, Jane, one of the staff members at Crossroads offered me this wisdom: “give an amount that will make you uncomfortable, but not resentful”. Uncomfortable but not resentful. That wisdom led me to donate an amount that pushed me into a stage of giving I had previously been resistant to. I reflected on the city we live in, with all its beauty and brokenness, and the work it will take to bring about a more just and equitable city. I reflected on the financial resources I have been privileged to have, and how a meaningful gift could nudge that work just a little further along in the hands of those poised to do it.
As I incrementally wrote checks towards my donation over a couple months, it was anything but petty. I did notice it coming out of my bank account, I did have to curb spending in other areas, and I definitely adjusted my lifestyle. I was so uncomfortable, but resentment was the last thing on my mind. I knew I was just starting to take up my part of the work.
Coming out of the Giving Project, I took a breath. I knew I couldn’t simply box up this experience and pack it away, but instead had to make some uncomfortable financial changes. I reflected on those petty monthly donations I had been giving, and how those didn’t financially mirror my values. I reflected on those three spots I was already giving to each month, and how they are poised to use my money far better than I ever could to bring about a more just and equitable world. These reflections surely haven’t happened on my own. Over the past year, God has placed mentors and friends in my life who have asked me tough financial questions, having an Elijah to tell me, “go ahead, use the last of your flour and oil, and just trust that they won’t run dry”. I have also been among communities that inspired me to give, seeing folks like the widow giving what seem to be their last pennies and still making it work. Even after all this, I’ll be transparent with you all, I’ve upped my monthly giving to exactly two of those three spots, still working on the third.
Because if anything, my journey of growing in generosity has been just that: journey and growth. It’s not perfect or linear, and it takes so much time and trust. I still work at a nonprofit, have far less savings than I would like, don’t own a car or house, and still dish out way too much for rent each month. But now I know that I have enough, enough to have a comfortable life, and also to give generously in a way that reflects my values. To give out of abundance. So here I am, a growing monthly donor, and it feels uncomfortable, but I am not resenting paying my small share to the work of nudging our city and our world a little closer to the just and equitable ones that God visions for us.
Go ahead, use the last of your flour and oil, and just trust that they won’t run dry.