Stronger Together: Generosity in Grief

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Count your blessings.  Within the last few weeks, there have been three deaths that hit close to home.  A dear sorority sister buried her mother, a close mom from my mothers’ group lost her dad, and I learned that a sorority sister lost her life while celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary in the Bahamas.  We share so much.  We are all passionate mothers and throughout our lives we are all women who have gathered together for shared values, community service and efforts to live out our deepest beliefs.  It should not be surprising that in the midst of loss and the depths of grief, what I have witnessed has been a testament to generosity.  Empathy, amazingly, can spark heightened levels of generosity and shows up as a powerful motivator in the fragile cycle of life.

It may seem painfully obvious, but generosity is expressed and experienced in many different forms.  In our congregations and faith based communities, we see examples of generosity that span from traditional tithes and offering to non-profit charitable donations, formal volunteering to helping a stranger, or extra efforts to care for the elderly, sick or shut-ins. Over the past few weeks, I have watched as people in the midst of their own grief sent donations, arranged flowers, attended services, started meal chains and so much more.  Even as unanticipated tragedy touched the lives of tourists in the Bahamas, what I will remember is the GoFundMe Campaigns and the powerful networks that rebounded with an abundance of love.

 

These powerful examples and those images that resonate in the depths of your mind have something in common: “giving good things to others freely and abundantly”—the definition of generosity according to the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project. When generous, people prioritize the needs of others, often above their own.   If we aren’t careful, we can miss the ways that people support one another in our pews and throughout our community. Generous people show up in countless ways and circumstances, even as headlines remind us of the challenges faced within our country.

 

Take time out to notice, perhaps write, document and share, the many ways that generosity is present in your life.  The act of capturing these acts serves as both chronicle and catalyst for those who are experiencing the densely layered challenges that life offers.

 

During a season of the year often plagued by discussions of the summer giving slump, we should be challenged to notice the countless examples of generosity all around us.  In their book The Paradox of Generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson find that the generosity-happiness link is a kind of spiral, with acts of giving yielding positive emotions and those emotions further energizing generosity. 1   Acts of kindness are typically received appreciatively and appreciation is experienced as kindness. The research of Robert Emmons, professor of psychology and renown scientific expert on gratitude, finds that people who keep a gratitude journal also experience superior physical health, increased optimism and happiness, and higher energy levels. Those focusing on gratitude also display higher levels of helpfulness, generosity, and compassion than their peers.2 Essentially, our faith traditions and science alike, tell us that we would do well to orient toward generosity.  

 

Deep sorrow over the loss of a loved one is a part of the grieving process.  What we recommend for personal growth and happiness has the potential to reorient ministries and organizations of faith to the cycle of generosity and gratitude as well.  Whenever I am asked about fundraising advice, I suggest thanking the givers who support you as a first step toward re-thinking the need to raise more resources.  I am a believer in the importance of understanding the altered landscape of religious giving, tirelessly suggesting to congregations the importance of understanding giving data and demographics.  Equally important is the process of completing a generosity audit. We benefit when we focus on the giving and gifts around us, even in the darkest hours of our faith walk.  There are insufficient words to capture the magnitude of loss people experience when a loved one, parent or spouse transitions from this life. Yet, generosity abounds.

 

As I prepare for another memorial service for a friend, I sit in the hospital room with my own mother.  I observe the particular kindness of the nurses who have become a pseudo family to me, and to countless others.  I notice a new notification of a donation toward grief care packages for the children in our mothers group. I reflect on the visits to the hospital by a member of our congregation, the visit of a pastor friend that I met in seminary just three years ago, and the professor who met me at the hospital to meet my mother and to offer a prayer.  I think about the flowers a dear friend sent, on the heels of the anniversary of her mother’s death, in honor of my grandmother who transitioned from this life three years ago.  When we focus solely on the tragedies we experience, we lose the hope and restoration offered within the Christian tradition.

 

When we minister to one another, and when we remember the least of these among us, we help to demonstrate the essence of our faith and remind ourselves of the power of being connected, one to another.

 

Grief is hard. Whether you have lost a relationship, a job, or a loved one in this season – there are everyday acts of kindness that offer renewal to our spirits.  We are at our best when we take time to capture the generosity around us, and we immerse ourselves in the gratitude, kindness and generosity experience of someone else.  We are called to live our faith. I have seen no greater witness during this season, than the tremendous efforts of those who rally to shower unending love on those experiencing hard times.  For every flower sent, card mailed, visit completed, prayer offered, donation made, tithe contributed, visit shared, meal provided, non-profit sponsored, hand held, tear wiped and investment in ministry made – Thank You.

 

Your generosity matters.  We are stronger together.

 

1 The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. By Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

2 Steenbarger, Brett. “Generosity And Peak Performance.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 16 Apr. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/brettsteenbarger/2018/04/16/generosity-and-peak-performance/.

 

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