Generosity: What Will You Give?
"What's in it for me?" No matter what the transaction, human beings instinctively seem to have one main objective in any type of undertaking. That objective is what benefit can I receive from this. If I invest or give up something now, what can I expect in the future that will make me happier, healthier, wealthier, or more famous? If you stop and think about it, so much of human society and our economy is based off this psychological phenomenon. Take student loans, for instance. Why in the world would a young individual essentially sell himself to a bank and live the next few years, and probably decades, in indentured servitude to his creditors? Clearly because the only way he can get a fulfilling job, make more money in the long-term, and become famous is with the aid of a college degree (keep in mind that humans are awful at telling the future -- the story rarely ends this way). Thus, such a young person is willing to put himself through those years or decades of misery only because there is supposedly a greater good at the other end of the very long tunnel.
We expect that every type of transaction should be structured this way — if there's no benefit for us, we take a hike. Yet if our experience with God and our Faith have taught us anything, it might be that God's ways are not always our way. That shouldn't come as a shock, since, after all, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek when someone slaps us.
So it also shouldn't come as a shock that our dealings with God can't be approached in the same way we would sign a deal in the boardroom. Conversion is one such spiritual transaction which requires that we give ourselves to God and conform to His laws (I use "conversion" in both the strict sense of a soul accepting the truth of the Catholic Faith for the first time and in the loose sense of a soul growing ever closer to God. We all need to convert). Many approach conversion with the mentality of what benefit they can receive from it. Conversion, of course, requires sacrifice, and so we start to get into our human habit of weighing the sacrifice against the possible future benefits.
The problem is that this is not the way that God works. It was just stated that conversion requires sacrifice, but we can't forget that true sacrifice requires love. A soul truly willing to convert wants to make every sacrifice necessary out of love, not anticipation of future benefits. Does a daughter caring for her elderly parents analyze the benefits she can expect by performing the mundane tasks of caring day in and day out? She rather does it because she loves her parents. She gives herself totally and expects nothing in return.
This is the exact way that we need to approach our relationship with God. Archbishop Fulton Sheen says that in order to begin a conversion one must, "cease asking what God will give you if you come to Him, and begin to ask what you will give God (Sheen, 292). This is a true conversion animated by love and generosity. Such an individual sees that their past life leaves them worthy of nothing, and that there is reparation to be made for personal sins and the sins of others. This individual has shifted the focus from the self to God. If we think that somehow this shift isn't justified, remember that Christ shifted His focus from Himself to us in undergoing the Passion.
Lent, which is newly upon us, is a perfect time for conversion and to start living our Faith more seriously. But in order for it to be a serious conversion, everything we do must be undertaken with the main goal of giving ourselves more perfectly to God and making reparation for sin. If we eat less, the main goal is not to lose weight, but to curb our passions which will help us serve God. If we practice more discipline and order in our lives, we should do so to better serve God and not because our lives were a stressful mess. All these desirable benefits like losing weight and being in control are side effects of giving ourselves more perfectly to God, but the total surrender of ourselves must be the main motivation. This, however, brings out one of the curious aspects of disinterestedly giving ourselves to God. The soul who completely surrenders itself without thought of personal gain actually gains everything, since God is the only One sufficient to satisfy our hearts. Paradoxically, by forgetting about ourselves, we gain everything for ourselves. Be generous this Lent, and you will experience for yourself that God cannot be outdone in generosity.
Sheen, Fulton J. Peace of Soul. Whittlesey House, New York. 1949.