Charity tends to be one of those things that people think of as an ‘extra’ thing. Something one does after they’ve accumulated x amount of money or paid off y amount of debt; one of those extracurriculars for the holiday that makes you feel better about spending just a little more on you and yours. Especially with those in my age group, young professionals in their twenties and thirties, charity is something to do after marriage, after a mortgage, after kids… There are a lot of reasons, but they all tend to be ‘afters’.
In my opinion, this outlook doesn’t ever lead to genuine charity. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is the lie of tomorrow- that we will have one, that it will go as planned. When we get in the habit of putting off charity for ‘after’, we give ourselves that permission to continue building after upon after until we’ve wasted decades being hard of heart and uncharitable. Decades that could have changed the lives of innumerable people, blessed the days of those who needed it most and left the world in its broken state, complaining of it at the same time that we didn’t lift a finger to change anything.
‘But I don’t make much!’ Neither do I. I’m a twenty two year old young woman who writes novels and poetry, working fifty some hours a week as a full time nanny to pay off a car and save for a house as I live with my parents.
I used to have the mentality, back in high school, that I would begin to donate my money when I got a job. I didn’t. Then I told myself I would donate when I got in college. I didn’t. I went on the occasional mission trip, dropped a dollar in the red buckets at Christmas… But that was an afterthought, not charity. That was throwing money and time that I saw as mine, the smallest amount possible, at the first thing I saw to try to make myself feel like a good person.
Becoming a nanny and a published author has changed my perspective on a lot of things- my idea of charity, namely. When I was published, I decided that I would donate 10% (the amount of a ‘tithe’ in the words of my religion) to coo responding charities. I was filled with dreams of donating thousands of dollars right off the bat, doing good while getting mine at the same time.
Well, first royalty check came around and let’s just say it wasn’t exactly up to par. My excitement at the fact that anyone would read my work was soon eclipsed by the realization that donating 10% would mean donating only a couple dollars- which made me feel pretty bad. I ended up donating more than I earned that period. And I was glad for it.
My idea of charity changed from that point on. I didn’t just pledge 10% of my royalties- I now donate a half-tithe to my home parish every month from my paycheck. I volunteer my time every week as a mentor at my friends’ church for the high school youth. I came to the realization that once I looked at myself with the eyes of charity that I had so much more to give than I had ever imagined- love, time, resources, experience, patience… I keep waiting for the list to end but it really doesn’t.
When you stop thinking in terms of ‘after’, your whole world changes. I’ve become less attached to my things, more open to people. I’ve become more vulnerable concerning the places where I am suffering, more willing to ask for help, and better prepared to muscle through. I’m learning to prioritize, to feel a strong sense of justice and to nurture love within myself for all those I encounter.
And as I have always held, the better I become as a person, the more I become authentically ‘me’, the better I will be as an author.
How do you nurture your own sense of charity? How does it make you a better reader or writer?