Working with middle schoolers at my church on a trip to the beach years ago (in January, that’s important here), a group of them wanted to spontaneously jump into the ocean – something about a polar bear club. Although I was in all other ways considered an adult at this point, I was immediately transported back to all the peer pressure I thought I had left behind years ago. Having too much kid in me at that particular moment, I ran into the ocean with the rest of them, felt my heart almost stop, laughed with them, and ran out again. I remember at some point as I walked back to where we were staying that I couldn’t see as well as I could going into the water. Figuring I had gotten some water in my eyes, I reached up to wipe them and suddenly realized what I was now missing that I had before I ran into the Atlantic … my glasses.
We rarely make good decisions in the heat of the moment.
This morning, my tax refund arrived in my bank account. While the amount itself was nothing to write home about, I was tempted to start the day by thinking about which of my financial needs or goals could be moved along with that extra cash. Fortunately, my plan stepped in and saved the day.
Operating under some good advice from years ago, I had decided back then what to do with any “extra” money I receive. Most of us, from time to time, receive extra – it might be a gift, an inheritance,a bonus, or like me, a tax refund. Likewise, most of us also have things in our lives that are trying to “speak for” extra money when it comes in. If you need a visual, imagine a nest of baby birds the moment they see their mother return with breakfast.
And yet, as I wrestle with these thoughts on giving, I realize that the needs of those outside my own little world are not only much greater…they are also much quieter. If I don’t make it a point to be purposeful about thinking about them, the noise of everything in front of me will drown them out. So I made a decision a long time ago to give away part of any extra money that ever comes in. When I lack discipline in the moment, the plan reminds me of the decision I made in a clearer moment.
Having a plan to give with extra money is easy. Take a second to dream today (with your spouse, preferably, if you are married) about what you would do if you had a sudden windfall of extra money come in. The amount is not really important because it’s all relative to where you are financially. The real question is, how will you split it up? How much will you give away? How much will you save? How much will you spend?
While you’re contemplating, I would add that while there have been a good handful of times I have regretted spending money on myself, there has never been any time that I have truly regretted helping someone in need. This thought helped me stretch a little beyond where I felt “comfortable” in my giving plan. This would be my encouragement to you as you think through what you would do with extra money before it comes in.
Spontaneous giving, of course, also has its place. This doesn’t mean you have to decide exactly where you’re going to give the money, but set it aside for that need that shows up in your community, city, the country, or the world. You won’t have to wait too long – they’re everywhere!
Two mornings after I lost my glasses in the Atlantic Ocean, this amazing group of 150 middle schoolers approached me with an envelope holding $275 (including lots of crumpled, wet dollar bills) for new glasses. What a humbling reminder not only of the impact that our giving can have, but also that it doesn’t take much to make that difference.
As you make your plan to give, I pray that you will find the intangible benefits of generosity outweigh the real “cost” in the moment … many times over.