The government shutdown taught me an amazing lesson about generosity.
This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org.
“What do you have?”
Mindlessly scrolling through the news as of 8am on a rainy Thursday, something snapped my attention: headlines of the latest on the government shutdown, which ended this past weekend—the longest in history to date—blared their less-than-hopeful words in bold typeface. An addendum in less-bold type then shared the story of free meals and haircuts, gift cards and zero-percent interest bank loans that were being offered to those experiencing economic hardship due to the shutdown. Scrolling further, article #3 was much different. It contained a picture of a shelf, all neatly arranged with trinkets and folded sweaters, as if out of a magazine. “Marie Kondo Craze” it read, speaking of the latest home-organizing trend involving getting rid of anything that does not bring you joy.
Resisting the urge to continue scrolling, I paused. Something stood out. I scrolled backwards, then forwards. Wasn’t it strange that a fad of getting rid of things was taking place at the same time thousands of government workers were struggling to hold on to anything, the same time restaurants, businesses, organizations and churches have stepped in to give, help and offer assistance? Was this something like how my mom used to go into a cleaning frenzy when she was stressed? But looking deeper into both stories, I discovered a commonality.
What do you have?
The answer is always: more than you thought.
THE RHETORICAL QUESTION
“What do you have?” is the question Jesus asked his disciples when there were 5,000-plus people to feed but no boxed lunches in sight. He actually meant it, but we usually assume this to be a rhetorical question to ask ourselves when nerves are frayed and problems are too big. “What do I have?” Our usual answer: “Not much.” Things like governments are big, and each of us is small. Things like churches are dying. Things like circumstances out of our control reveal no easy button to press and no way to wake up from what’s going on. It all becomes a woe-is-me world. When you feel your power, influence and resources are limited, all you see is an insurmountable problem with a solution that’s not up to you.
But beyond shutdowns and home organization strategies, the answer continues to be that there’s more than you thought.
You just have to see it.
And use it.
Here are three ways I am learning to move my mind-set from “not much” to “more than I thought.”
Paradigm Shift #1: From Rhetorical to Examining
After the first weeks of dire headlines announcing the shutdown, subtle shift occurred when stories began to unfold. It was a grassroots shift that transformed “what do I have?” from being hopelessly rhetorical into helpfully examining. Restaurants and organizations, banks and churches, individuals and families answered it with what they saw when they looked around and examined what they really had. Free meals, haircuts, fitness classes, zero-percent loans, donuts and gas cards were the result.
Kids were selling cocoa and crafts. Musicians held benefit concerts every day of the week around the country. My friend and Fresh Expressions co-worker Travis Collins even appeared on NPR as his church gave out thousands of dollars in gift cards and invited banks to meet with furloughed workers to offer no-interest loans.
It’s certainly true that pizza and temporary financial help undoubtedly do not fix the source of furloughs and $0 paychecks. But something holy begins to happen when people offer others what they have—especially at a cost to themselves. It has a meaning that goes far beyond the “stuff.” After all, any preacher who digs into the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 always talks about more than bread and fish and full bellies; Jesus is fully present in the midst of desperation and limitation. Somehow, offering what you have—as big or small as it is—has a strange way of reaching beyond the very limits that you assumed could not make a difference. To find out what’s in the closet, you have to open the door.
Paradigm Shift #2: From Nothing to Something
Whether it’s facing a giant, a dying church or a government shutdown, it can feel like you have nothing and can do nothing. When you face a circumstance that makes you feel powerless and hopeless, your first instinct is to focus on what you don’t have. It often sounds something like, “If we only had __________, we could ___________.” Sometimes it’s a glimpse into others’ grandiose closets that makes you think twice about what you can do. But instead of comparing, what if you begin considering? Ruling out “nothing” as an answer, what is your “something”—even if small?
Do you have a talent or vocational skill, or relationship that could help someone?
Do you have a connection you could utilize?
Do you have a building to share?
Do you or does someone you know have extra time on their hands?
Do you have something that can be cut from your schedule to make room?
Do you have a passion you’ve never followed?
Do you have an ability you’ve never honed?
Too often, we conclude we have nothing and can do nothing because we’ve either minimized what God has given us or we’ve written off what God has given us. But all of us have “something”—what is yours?
Paradigm Shift #3: From Limitation to Innovation
Humans have always struggled with our limited nature. In the fall, Adam and Eve’s temptation to eat of the tree to become like God stemmed from their recognition and desire to overcome their limitedness. In thousands of years of history, humans have strived to overcome every limit imaginable, sometimes slipping into self-destruction along the way. Whether physical, relational, financial or communal, we usually see limitations as obstacles to avoid rather than face.
But limitation is the parent of innovation. Yes, dire situations can breed hopelessness, but they can also generate creativity.
Dr. Seuss wrote his most popular book Green Eggs and Ham on a friend’s bet that he couldn’t write an entire book using the same 50 words.
Madam C.J. Walker worked in the cotton fields and as a cook and laundress in post-Civil War America, which led her to start a line of beauty products and become one of the first female African American millionaires
High school students will come up with more names of animal species if you give them 5 minutes vs. 10 minutes.
Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb (after failing many times) without a formal education.
Mother Theresa began her ministry in India though she had no supplies or support, teaching children by drawing in the dirt.
What do you have? If you’re limited in time, in resources, in finances, in space or in perceived impact, it can actually help, not hinder. Limits can help you squeeze more out of less and even point you to a unique calling. What can you create with what you have?
SO, WHAT DO YOU HAVE?
It’s a good question. Whether you’re doing some Marie Kondo-ing, figuring out how to help in the government shutdown, feeling limited in time, people or resources, discerning starting a new ministry, or seeking to follow a passion God has put in your heart, the answer to that question is the same.
What do you have?
You have more than you thought.
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