A few days ago, I played the raucous, high-spirited, Spirit-filled song Give it Away by the Gaither Vocal Band during the last session of a class on The Twelve Steps.
“If you want more happy than your heart will hold
If you want to stand taller if the truth were told
Take whatever you have, and give it away
If you want less lonely and a lot more fun
And deep satisfaction when the day is done
Then throw your heart wide open and give it away”
The last step of the famous Twelve Steps is: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” It is shortened to the phrase: “Give it Away.” The good news of the Gospel (on which The Twelve Steps are based) gives us the same marching orders: Having experienced life with Jesus, we try to carry his message of love to everyone we meet and to practice his teachings in everything we do. We give what we have away. Professions of faith are dry dust unless they are accompanied by open hands and giving hearts.
Not all members of my class were able to think about “giving away” because they have struggled with keeping their lives together for so long. But in the end, they came up with love, friendship, and what they have learned through life and through The Twelve Steps. When professed Christians think about our give-aways, we probably focus on financial resources, physical and emotional aid to others, and sharing the gospel – all of which are God-inspired and crucial to keeping the Kingdom of God on earth strong.
But the Give it Away song tells the story of an old farmer offering some freshly picked sweet corn to someone passing by. His simple gift reminds us that our giving also can be small and personal and spontaneous – and also God inspired. Here are some of my “sweet corn” give-aways. What are yours?
The gift of laughter – We all have funny stories from our lives that can brighten the world. Here’s my favorite: One day I came across my 3 year-old son standing by the TV as the automatic message repeated, “We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.” My son, now becoming impatient, yelled I am standing by!” I tried hard not to giggle as I explained that standing by in this case did not mean standing next to the TV but waiting for the TV station to solve its problems.
We all need the blessing of light-hearted camaraderie. I remember a time when Chris Web, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, James Bryan Smith, John Ortberg were all sitting on a stage together. They had gathered for a formal discussion of spiritual formation, but “holy hilarity” (as Richard Foster puts it) was front and center with this group. We left that room a little bit wiser, but also “more happy than our heart can hold.”
In a time when we are weighed down by the serious issues facing the world order, we can have a “lot less lonely and a lot more fun” if we give away the joy of laughter
The gift of listening – Think about the last time someone sat patiently with you quietly listen to your story with out trying to fix you or the situation. I vividly remember a time recently when I shared a part of my life that I had never discussed with anyone to a person who just listened without interruption. Offer that gift soon to a family member or friend. Both can both leave your encounter with “deep satisfaction when the day is done.”
The gift of encouraging words – Decades ago, I wrote a book for new adult readers about a family disrupted by the father’s abrupt departure. It was meant to encourage single mothers to become strong and independent. Several weeks after it was published by New Readers Press, I got a short letter from a woman somewhere in Pennsylvania. In painstaking printing she wrote, “I read your book. I really liked it! How did you know about my life?” I had given this reader her life story, and she gave it back. What a gift of “deep satisfaction when the day is done.”
The gift of book recommendations – I have a lot of time to read these days. When I love a book, I LOVE a book. I am always sharing my new favorite book with someone. I’ve found that “Nothing’s quite as good until you give it away.”
The gift of the unexpected – two family members gave me gorgeous chrysanthemum plants for my balcony this fall; they are still in full bloom. A friend came for a visit this summer bearing a large container of blueberries she had just picked. Another friend told me recently that while she was sorting things that had been stored away for years, she found one of her father’s old fedoras. She decided to give it to an elderly friend. He was so delighted with its fit and style that she was motivated to find other things she could give away.
In comments about her lyrics to Give it Away, songwriter Gloria Gaither said, “An old friend of ours told us early in our marriage, ‘You’ll only be able to keep what you give away.’ We’ve found what he said to be true. And not only do we keep what we give away, we seem to lose, in one way or another, what we insist on keeping.”
So, as the song says, “Throw your heart wide open and give it away.”