Years ago, I was wronged by an ego-driven boss who, after manipulating me and lying to me, topped off the painful experience by sending me off with acrid words. More years came and went, and I found myself replaying those events and imagining outrageous scenarios where I triumphed on a public stage while he writhed in obscurity and ignominy. Bitterness rankled my soul. One day, it was clear to me what, if I were to live free, I had to do. I had to write a letter, and in this letter I needed to forgive. I needed to acknowledge places where I had been wrong, and though he hadn’t asked for it and didn’t for a moment believe he needed it, I was to pour out forgiveness. I was to release him. I was to be generous.
This is the sort of thing we imagine when we hear the call to generosity. We forgive an enemy or a friend. We offer what we have to someone who has less. We loosen the reigns on our time or our energy. True, every single one. However, this generosity always points outward, never inward. Generosity towards others is difficult; but for many of us, generosity towards ourself is impossible, laughable. Letting my boss off the hook was hard, but not nearly as hard as letting myself off the hook.
Do you recall Balfour’s words: to yourself, respect. He snuck that in there, didn’t he? We mustn’t miss it. To treat ourselves with respect is to listen to ourselves well, to not make severe, reactionary judgments about our thoughts or our emotions or our motives. Rather than heap shame on our souls, we nurture the freedom to be playful and curious. I respect you and choose to think the best of you. I also respect me and choose to think the best of me.
Generosity means being patient with ourselves, giving plenty of space to explore and growing more and more comfortable with dead-ends and foolish turns. Generosity means being kind to ourselves, refusing to heap hard words upon ourselves that we’d never allow to land uncontested if they were aimed at our child or friend. To be kind is to be gentle, tender. Generosity doesn’t traffic in self-contempt; we refuse to loathe the person God has made us to be. Generosity doesn’t nurture a litany of failures and misjudgments. Generosity traffics in hope, not fear.
To review, generosity toward self is patient, kind, not rude, not easily angered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. My, generosity sounds a lot like love.
To be generous with yourself is simply to receive and dwell in God’s generous love for you.