The last time I was depressed (and I mean really depressed) I lost almost everything. I don’t talk about that year very often, because I would much rather be funny and uplifting and joyous. But it happened, and I could start to feel it happening again. I quit Facebook and social media. I stopped blogging and writing. I lay in the house, certain that all was lost and that there was no hope left for the world, and that whatever hope there was to be, would be found only in the next one. I could feel myself withdrawing and retreating, as is my way in a really tough situation, and I didn’t know how to stop it, or even if I really wanted to.
And then, I went Christmas shopping. It sounds so silly, and so simple, but there it is. I stumbled out of the darkness, blinking and muttering, knowing full well that it wasn’t even Thanksgiving week yet, and I put on some Christmas carols and went to the mall. How American of me. But I’m going to tell you, it is hard to hate someone that you are giving to. It is hard to give up on a world that you are actively doing favors for. It’s the Ben Franklin effect, and sometimes we need to inflict it upon ourselves.
He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged. – Benjamin Franklin
You see? We feel better about the people we give to than the people we receive from! So I went out and began to give. I shopped for my kids. I shopped for my wife. I shopped for my co-workers. And suddenly, and without any warning whatsoever, I was smiling again. I felt…good! Weird. And just like that the spirit of Christmas came down to me in the third week of November and saved me. Now, I didn’t buy any presents for my enemies, but maybe that’s next. My mother always says you can’t hate someone you are praying for, which I think is kind of the same idea. Love wins. Hate destroys you and everyone around you.
Although honestly, I can’t take full credit for this personal epiphany. Really, truly, as in most monumental life shifts around here, it was Edward. When he came home to inform us about the 1st grade food drive, he was not impressed with the two or three old cans we produced from the pantry. He insisted that we go shopping, because people were hungry! So we did. I got one cart for our own family’s needs, and he pushed a second one around the store, filling it with every kind of thing he could think of. As he produced each item, as long as it was non-perishable, what was I going to say? No? I couldn’t. Why shouldn’t the food drive recipients get chocolate pudding? And so we arrived at the checkout with two carts full of groceries, and I spent over $50 on the 1st grade food drive.
He was so excited to bring that food to school. He loaded it into boxes and then, straining under the weight, he loaded them into his little red wagon that he conned me into buying him for his Halloween costume. I have never seen him so happy and proud as when he pulled into the school pulling his little wagon overflowing with generosity and love. I escorted him down the hall where his contributions were larger than everyone else’s put together. His teacher walked out and just said “Wow! Edward!” and he was beaming. He got it. He felt the salvational power of joyful giving. As it turns out, all it takes to save the world is us. All of us. Every last piece of us, given gladly, and asking nothing in return. And that’s Christmas.
Today is Giving Tuesday, and I would encourage you to be generous today, with your time, talents, money, and spirit. If you have the desire to give to an organization but don’t know which to choose, some places that are meaningful to me are Make-A-Wish Vermont, who gave Edward (and the rest of us) his amazing wish, and First UMC Burlington, who provide food for the homeless, hold space for hundreds of people in 12 step programs, support our youth with empowering opportunities to serve, and generally make the world around it a better place, despite the stigma spread by “Christian” groups that seem to spread more judgement than love around this world of ours.
If you have no money to give, don’t worry about it. You do have something to give, and if you think hard enough about it, you probably know what it is. Be generous today, and everyday. I swear to you, it saved me. And it can save you too.