Daring Greatly: Hugging Strange Old Men and Living With Extravagant Generosity

Once when I was around ten years old, my mom and I were at the eye doctor. As we were leaving, an elderly man came into the doctor’s office alone. He looked pale and sad and lonely and I just wanted to hug him. My mom and I left and I told her as we walked to the parking lot that I thought he’d looked like he needed a hug. My mom said, “You can go back in and hug him if you want. I’ll wait right here.” So I did. I went in and said, “Excuse me, sir. But you look like you could use a hug.” And I wrapped my chubby arms around him and hugged him.

Obviously, he freaked out. His body went rigid and his face went from looking tired and sad to totally panicked. His eyes bulged out a little. It’s possible he had a mild stroke or something, but I’ll never know because I promptly got freaked out when I realized that his gruff exterior was not melting from my kindness like Daddy Warbucks’s did with Annie and I turned around and ran out of the doctor’s office.

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I’m an idea person. I’ve been this way since I was a child.  I am relatively aware of what’s going on around me (which is a nice way of saying I’m nosy) and I frequently have ideas about things I could do for other people – a physical act of service, a gift I could give, a message I could write, a contribution I could make to a cause. I don’t say that to wow you with my holiness – it certainly doesn’t make me some amazing person that these things occur to me, especially since I rarely act on them. But I recognize that not everyone is this way. For example, my husband, who is a much more generous person than I am and will do anything you ask of him without complaining, doesn’t think this way. He is much more willing than I am to serve others if he is aware of a need, but the ideas of what these needs are and how he could meet them just don’t naturally occur to him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just not how he’s wired.

I, on the other hand, am both perceptive (again, read: nosy) and a planner, which means I more naturally see needs and have ideas out the wazoo for ways I could help meet them. But I’m not so good with following through on those ideas. Which somehow seems a lot worse.

A few weeks ago at Bible study we were talking about what it looks like to have faith when you feel God is prompting you to do something and you don’t exactly know how to do it. We talked about the excuses we make for not following those promptings.

These are some of my most common excuses:

  • “What if it really creeps them out and they take it the wrong way? I mean, I’m pretty sure I gave that old man a heart attack that one time.”
  • “But I can’t do everything. It’s just not possible to give in all of these ways. I’m just ONE woman!”
  • “I’m sure they are getting tons of encouraging messages from other people – it probably won’t even mean anything to them to get a note from me. Actually, they will probably think I’m a weird stalker.”
  • “I can’t contribute enough to this need to make much of a difference. Better to put my money towards a smaller need where it will really matter.”
  • “I mean, I don’t want to exhaust myself. I’ve had a really long week at work. This will probably put me over the edge and then I’ll be mean to my husband. So really, by not doing this, I’m thinking of my husband. Best wife ever.”

I mean, they’re pretty bullet-proof, right?

****

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which is about the power of vulnerability to transform our lives. Brown is a sociologist who has been researching shame and vulnerability for more than a decade. I haven’t finished the book yet, but one of the most thought-provoking points I’ve come to so far is the link between shame and scarcity. Scarcity is this idea of “never enough” that permeates Western culture. It plays out differently for different people, but it hits most people in some form or fashion. It’s the idea of “I am never                                enough.” Never good enough, never successful enough, never smart enough, never pretty enough, never funny enough, never interesting enough, never rich enough, never thin enough, etc. (I actually wrote a post about that about 3 years ago). I’ve been struck with how this internal monologue of scarcity shows up in the ways I love and serve others.

I want to live a beautiful life – to be a generous person who gives freely and who makes others feel seen. But I am full of excuses and full of fear. Fear of how giving that way to others will affect ME. Because if I follow through on all of those promptings to give to others, who will be looking out for ME? How will there still be enough for ME?

I wonder, what would happen if I stopped making those excuses? What would happen if, to the best of my ability, I just went ahead and did each of those things when they popped into my mind? What would it look like to give extravagantly -of my time, my gifts, my energy, my intellect, my love, and even my finances? This summer I am daring myself to let go of my excuses and my rationalizations and my scarcity-driven fears, and instead I am going to try to do one simple thing. Whenever that idea pops into my head – to buy someone’s coffee or make cookies for my coworkers or to send a Facebook message to a girl I haven’t talked to since high school to let her know that I was thinking of her the other day and hoping that she’s doing well – that I will just DO it without giving myself the time to make excuses. (I mean, I’m probably not going to hug any strange old men. Not every idea is a good idea. But many ideas are both good and possible if I just keep myself from getting in the way.)

I have a 5th grade student named You Min. Every day she greets me by saying, “Hello Teacher, I am wonderful, smart, beautiful You Min.” At first, I thought she was confused – maybe she meant to be giving me a compliment? Or maybe she’s asking me to give her one? But then I realized, nope, she’s just pretty kick-butt and she knows it. Maybe that’s what living without scarcity looks like – it’s ok for her to be awesome and know it, because that’s not taking away from anyone else. There’s enough awesome to go around. And maybe it’s ok for me to give extravagantly when I feel the nudge to do so. Because there’s enough love to go around. There’s enough joy and grace and hope and beauty and goodness and freedom to go around. So let’s spread it around.

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PS – When we talked about his in Bible study, my friend Laura said, “I feel a blog-post coming on!” So, Laura, it’s ok if you take credit for this one. There’s enough credit to go around. You can have this one. ; )

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