The past month has been, for me, a month of humbling lessons in generosity as millions worldwide answered calls to help my fellow-Filipinos who survived Typhoon Haiyan.
I learned, for example, that one need not be rich or powerful in order to be generous. Stories abound of such examples as a pre-schooler who donated his piggy bank savings, a beggar-boy who dropped a few coins out of the day’s “earnings” into a donation box, and a taxicab driver who did not charge evacuees who took a ride with him from the airport. These gestures from people whom I thought not to have much to give reminded me of Christ’s appreciation for the poor widow’s contribution, and prompted me to examine my own willingness (or unwillingness) to part with my comforts to help others.
I learned that giving hurts. Often, parting with one’s money is, in itself, the least painful part of giving. I learned this from donors who have had to sacrifice time and effort to investigate solicitor-institutions to ensure they are legitimate ones, or to wait in a long line at a bank that has insufficient and inefficient tellers in order to deposit the donation. Others, giving up sleep, worked at their jobs at night or on weekends so that they could volunteer to serve the evacuees during the day, or volunteered at night shifts at the evacuation centers despite having busy workdays. Small as these sacrifices may be for some, they are sacrifices nonetheless which elicit appreciation and deserve emulation. I realized that while I often want to give, I sometimes want to avoid the inconvenience it entails. But generosity, being a virtue, truly exists when it is practiced despite difficulty.
Finally, I learned that being a gracious receiver is as important as being a cheerful giver – and I consider myself a receiver as well of the aid to the typhoon survivors; they being my brothers and sisters, their sufferings are also my sufferings.
I have sometimes been tempted to judge others by how much they are giving or not giving (e.g., This company is cancelling its Christmas party and donating to the typhoon victims instead, while that other company is not.), or to second-guess others’ motives for giving (e.g. This company is only giving for its corporate image; that person is giving only because he wants the cool fundraising shirt.) But then, I asked myself, will the typhoon survivors themselves, who have been left with nothing, be pleased with such small-mindedness regarding help extended to them? In this situation where the need is dire and every contribution counts, what good will come out of finding fault with others’ ways of being generous? Doubtless, there may be some imperfect acts of generosity, but these should not be of my concern. All that should matter for me is that God appreciates generosity, no matter how imperfectly manifested, and He Himself will purify whatever needs to be purified in the giver’s already noble deed. I know that my own acts of giving can be tainted by pusillanimity and self-serving motives. But God, in His goodness, uses my grudging efforts as occasions to move me to do more.
During this typhoon, for example, I have had to think less of myself and pray for friends whose relatives have been missing. To my own surprise, I found myself praying even for acquaintances whom I am not close to but whom I know to be living in the affected area – and to be happy and grateful upon receiving news that they are safe. I thought I was praying to help others, but in reality, God moved me to pray to teach me to expand my heart.
Indeed, every opportunity to help a brother or sister in need is an opportunity to receive immeasurable blessings in return. I agree with what one priest told participants of an out-of-town volunteer service program before they left: “You are going there not for an outreach, but for an exchange.”