When I stumbled upon Friends many years ago, I immediately fell in love with the testimonies that give shape and direction to our shared faith. Among these outward expressions of our intimate life with Christ, the call to simplicity was the most compelling to me.
Learning to live with a singular focus, ordering my life in a way that honors God, and consistently practicing a lifestyle that pays attention to the right use of all resources—this was and remains deeply challenging work!
I could not quite put my finger on it, but I also had a sense there was something missing in this message of simplicity, at least as far as I was hearing it. Paying consistent attention to purchases, possessions, and the potential impact these have on others can make one miserly and overly cautious if one is not careful.
Then, I met Roger.
Roger, it turns out, was one of the more-wealthy people I would ever get to know in my life. You would not know this by his outward appearance or the things he possessed. He and his wife maintained a relatively modest lifestyle and were intensely thoughtful in the use of their resources. It was clear from talking to Roger that he recognized all he had belonged to God and his work was to steward these resources in a way that aligned with God’s will.
What I learned from Roger, however, was greater than stewardship. The notion that all our resources belong to God is integral to the message of simplicity. Where he excelled—and helped me find that missing and liberating element within simplicity—was in generosity. Roger loved to give, and he did so with a spirit of joy and gratitude for being able to partner in God’s work in the world.
Roger’s example challenged me to consider what lies beyond “enough.” Though I may never have the amount of wealth or resources he had at his disposal, I clearly had more than I needed. How could these resources be used to enhance the lives of others? To expand the ministry of the church and the denomination which was and is so integral to my life? How would it change my life to not fixate on how little I could live on, and instead consider how much I can share with others?
Christian Smith writes, “Generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. It is a learned character trait that involves attitude and action entailing both the inclination and actual practice of giving liberally. It is not a haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life. What generosity gives can vary: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, and more but it always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of the receiver. Like all virtues, generosity is in people’s genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.”
My mentor in generosity, Roger, modeled this quality of life for me. He helped me understand that one of the values of simplicity is how it helps free us to practice being generous. Rather than focusing on whittling my life back to the barest of essentials, a perspective toward generosity expands my capacity to partner with God and do good toward others.
I’ve also come to see that generosity, along with being an essential spiritual practice, is the fruit of a life being formed into the image of Christ. Our God is immensely generous. As people who are called to reflect the image of God, how is this being manifest in our lives and life together? Does it show up in how we care for each other? In how we serve our communities and the world? In the way we are investing our time, talents, and treasure in the work and witness of Jesus’ Kingdom? Do people marvel at our generosity?