The Trials of a Once Cheerful Giver

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. – Romans 12:6-8 NIV

This is the story of how I shared a teaching on giving and exhorted myself into a corner.

I have been struggling with giving lately. Because of our economic circumstances growing up, coupled with one parent who was an unapologetic miser, my siblings and I had few opportunities to show generosity through financial means. What ways we were able to share with our friends was through time spent, giving an extra turn on the Nintendo or through little acts of service. As I’ve grown into womanhood and earned my own living, I’ve found contentment in supporting people and projects with my money. Not just satisfaction, but healing; because the truth is that redeeming the failings of Cedi-poor Younger Malaka has been therapeutic.  

Generous spirits very often attract manipulative and exploitative ones, for reasons that are not known to me. Maybe it has something to do with light and darkness coexisting for “balance” or some other mystic shit, but I do know that since I have grown in my capacity to give, so has the number of people who have taken advantage of my impulse. The most recent of these was a woman whom I’d hired as a housekeeper. We were connected through the agency she used to work for and she called me sobbing one day because the owner had fired her for “taking her daughter to the clinic”, which I thought was terribly unfair. (In hindsight, I should’ve known there was more to the story.) I told her that she could work for me directly and that I would pay her the same fee I was paying the agency – almost double the daily rate for housekeeping work – and that I would cancel my subscription with them. I also made it a point to treat and tip her, and to make sure she felt respected and appreciated in our home.     

I spent 3 months cleaning houses in Atlanta, so I have great respect for the housekeeping profession. It’s hard, thankless work…which might explain why I overlooked the thousands of rands in damages (most noticeably breaking several of my wedding dishes) she caused through carelessness for the two years that she was in my employ. The final straw came in December when she poured half a bottle of bleach in our load of dark colors that included the kid’s uniforms and then lied about how it happened. I dismissed her with pay and wished her luck. She thanked me by taking me to the CCMA, demanding a yet to be determined salary for “unfair” dismissal. We are awaiting the ruling, but as a consequence I am less inclined to give with the exuberance I once did. 

The change in my attitude is not the singular fault in her actions, but I do recognize it as a turning point. There is a team of children who regularly beg outside of our local Checkers who I will offer change or food if I have it, or at least a sympathetic glance. I was stunned to realize that in the midst of this season and in reflecting on the many ways that my generosity has been repaid with wickedness, I drove past them without a twinge or urge to help. I have been “unseeing” people’s suffering. Early this year, I wrote about saying “no” more often, but I never considered that this would extend into my spirit of philanthropy. 

Everything looks in order to me!

How does Romans 12 play into any of this?

Well as longtime readers of M.O.M. know, I married a man who eventually became a pastor. (I was as shocked by this turn of events as anyone else who grew up with me and knows me.) As a consequence, it means I have had to get comfortable with certain scenarios: 

  • Adopting conservative attire, including shin-length or longer skirts/dresses and an unnatural affinity for kitten heels;
  • Assuring church people that I am “blessed and highly favored” when asked about my well-being;
  • An ability to give an exhortation to congregants whether I’m prepared to or not.  

Since the pandemic began in 2020, I can count the number of times we’ve been in a physical church on one hand (I consider this a positive consequence) and this past Sunday was one of those occasions. Marshall was invited to speak at a church in Plettenberg Bay and since he’d offered to take me to Enrico’s for lunch afterwards I happily accompanied him. Pastor Mensah presides over this particular church and as a fellow Ghanaian, I knew there was no way I was going to escape public speaking. As expected just as I got re-adjusted in my seat, he boomed cheerfully: 

“And now I would like to invite my sister to say something small to our people gathered here!”

Smiling tightly, I read Romans 12 and talked about the need to recognize, develop and share the gifts that God has placed in us individually. “Tightly” because I am not a fan of Paul (I maintain that he is a virulent misogynist who hijacked the Church), but on this point he was definitely in his bag. 

“…if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully!” I screeched into the microphone before thanking everyone for their attention.

As I re-took my seat, I felt a wave of conviction wash over, nearly drown and about downright kill me. Give. Generously. C’mon.

Have you ever experienced moments where in the process of encouraging others, you end up judging yourself? When the words you’re speaking locate and direct hit you without warning? Surely you have. It’s called having a conscience. I call it God’s sneak attack, and on this Sunday I was surely snuck on! Because my intention when I took that microphone was to encourage everyone else in that room to do some introspection and to do better for themselves, but certainly not for me. At least not in that particular moment…and not in this particular way. I had six other scriptures prepared in case I got called on to speak, but with a 5 minute time limit I opted for Romans because it was “all encompassing”.

Not fair, Holy Trinity. Not fair at all!     

Marshall has always advised me to give with more caution, but even he sees this new behavior as an over-correction. I am inclined to agree, particularly since I have Bible-thumped myself with my own hands. While it’s unlikely that my giving spirit will be as visceral as it once was, I know that I cannot (and should not) quash it altogether. It is a heavenly gift, and while you can’t always control how other people use it once bestowed, you can treat it with the honor that it deserves.    

Have you identified your special gifting? Have you ever had it abused or disrespected? How did it change you and did you recover? Here’s hoping you do!