The breadth and the depth of a generous heart


The poor widow is my hero. For she, from her poverty, contributed all she had—her whole livelihood. Just two small coins, worth a few cents. Her whole heart was for God. And she put in more than all the others, far more than the wealthy with their large sums of surplus wealth.


There are times I feel like the rich, coming to deposit my excess in the treasury. It’s like donating old clothes from an overstuffed closet. It’s dropping a spare dollar in the cup full of change by the homeless man on the corner. Or it’s my joy that pours out to the similarly joyful around me, feeding and building and multiplying. But there are times, too, that I am poor. When my energy flags and my zeal is low. When I’m spent or perplexed or unsure of God’s will, or even His presence. In all of this? I desire, or at least desire the desire, to be generous.


I think often about two dimensions: breadth and depth. I am continuously amazed at the sheer magnitude of creation, at the billions of men and women who have walked this earth, at the sight of the earth from the view of a plane. I remember my littleness as I gaze up at the night sky. I am but a speck in the midst of grandeur. But then, too, I think of the unfathomable depths of the human person. I think of my own heart, with its longings and sorrows and joys. There’s my memory and my imagination, my capacity for suffering and for love, my past and my future and the now in between. I think of my immortal soul. And I remember that each person, from my dearest friend to the distant stranger I’ll never meet, possesses that same God-given depth. It’s remarkable.


And then I think of the breadth and depth of generosity. There are seasons of life when I feel particularly desirous of self-giving. Of throwing dinner parties and making long calls to friends far away, of striking up a conversation with the cashier and lending a hand to a neighbor who needs it. I want to make new friends and travel the world and spend and be spent, and gladly at that. Those seasons I love. But those are seasons of wealth when it’s easy to give, when my cup overflows. And then there are those seasons of drought, when my cup has run dry and selfishness sinks in. It’s when I face a person I have a hard time loving, when I feel ill-equipped or alone, when I have a longing heart or a troubled mind. When I have just two coins left.


There is certainly a freeing joy of being widely generous. But then there is an aching glory to entering the depths, to limping to the end, to loving without measure and without return. It’s an invitation, truly, to die. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” Jesus says, “it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” So often I long to remain that fruitless grain of wheat, if only to avoid the pain of death. But then St. Paul’s words to the Philippians ring out: Life is Christ, and death is gain. He calls me to the depths of generosity when I want nothing less than to give of myself.


It’s those times that I stumble to the foot of the cross. I see Jesus there, He who is infinitely generous, whose heart of love knows no bounds. Even having died, He did not cease pouring Himself out. For when the soldier pierced His side with a lance, immediately blood and water flowed out. Immediately He lavished upon us His love and mercy, without question or reserve. We killed Him, and He gave us even more of Himself.


I want that heart for myself, for my own is a mix of flesh and stone. It’s full of stops and starts in my mission to be generous. I count and measure and weigh the cost. But I want to pour myself out, even when pierced. To love widely and deeply, and to die so that I can live. To give, from my utter poverty, those last two coins.


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