Many years ago, when I first started in the ministry, I was having some minor difficulties in a number of aspects of my life, so I decided I needed to talk it through with someone. I was new to the pastoral counseling role (and well aware of my limited training and capabilities), so I made sure to find an actual professional. I found a pastor who had gotten all the right education and training, and we met for, I think, 6 sessions. He was excellent and wasted no time getting to the point. In the end, he gave me advice that I have used myself with others over the years: don’t apologize for being happy and/or successful. Up until my early 20’s, I hadn’t had a lot of either, so the experience was new to me.
I want to expand this to the second piece of my own advice: don’t brag about how successful and/or happy you are either. If it is real, it will show – if it isn’t, people will see through you. This is good advice in these times of omnipresent social media posts of people face-bragging about every little thing they do. I have news for you – I don’t care how delicious your dinner or latte or ice cream is. Just eat and be happy; no need to brag about your accomplishment to the entire world. It isn’t that we shouldn’t be proud of our new job or our children’s accomplishment or our wedding anniversary – these are great things to celebrate. I think it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people who are not, at this moment, happy or successful. Oversharing can bring real pain to others.
The next thing is this: like the Apostle Paul’s words about how when one suffers, all suffer, and when one rejoices, all rejoice, our happiness and/or success should lead us to be generous. Not just money, although I can’t tell you how many times over the years someone has stopped by my office with a handle of dollars and told me to spend on people who are in need. Generosity isn’t just about your weekly offering to your religious institution, although that allows us to do our ministry better and is really important. Generosity is a state of being – an attitude that is thankful for one’s happiness and/or success, and wants to help others find the same, if possible.
Nora Ephron, the great actress, writer, and director/producer, once said in an interview that she was one of those people who calculated tips to the penny, making sure she let the person who served her just how good (or bad) they were at their job. One day she realized that she was incredibly lucky and well off, and that extra dollar she could put above her 15/20% tip meant nothing to her, but it could bring a sense of satisfaction to the hard-working waitperson who had just served her lunch. A small act of generosity on our part can make a big difference in another person’s day, and this can help us be even more generous. It is a way of paying it forward. I have taken her idea and have seen just how much a small act of kindness can do for someone else.
None of us is self-made: none of us can take all the credit for our happiness and/or success. Once we realize that this is the truth, it frees us from judging others based on whether we think they are worthy of our giving. When a gift is a measure of another person worth, it isn’t generous – it’s manipulative. Don’t ever apologize for being happy and/or successful – but don’t ever take it for granted either. We all stand, as they say, on the shoulders of others. We all need some grace. That extra step to show someone we are thankful could be a leap for them.
Prayer – We thank You God for what You have given us – and we thank others for their generosity too. Help us to be thankful and grateful and generous to others. Amen.
Today’s art is “In Whom I Am Well Pleased” by Prentiss Taylor (1940).