There was once a very stingy man with a terminal illness. He was determined to prove wrong the old saying, “You can’t take it with you.” After much thought he finally figured out how to take at least some of his money with him when he died. He filled two pillowcases with money and left them in the attic of his home. When he passed away, he planned to reach out and grab the bags as he floated up to heaven.
Several weeks after the funeral, the deceased man’s wife was up in the attic cleaning when she saw the two pillowcases stuffed with cash. “Oh, that old fool,” she exclaimed. “I knew he should have put the money in the basement.”
The road to hell is paved with stinginess - not because there is some place that all stingy people get imprisoned in, like an eternal remand center for misers, but because if you live in a stingy way you end up in a stingy world. You create your own hell on earth.
We all have our moments of stinginess, don’t we? When I was a child, I had a stingy moment in my sleep. All my life I have done very imaginative things in my sleep; like waking up the night before my wedding with a chair beside me in the bed. On this particular occasion when I was young, I chased my sister around the house demanding a dollar. Apparently I am a very persistent sleep walking debt collector. Not one of my finest moments!
Whether it’s related to money or praise or a helping hand, stinginess is an outer manifestation of an inner fear. You are afraid you will lose something, so you play it safe and keep the cards of your generosity close to your chest.
What are your moments of miserly meanness? At what points does stinginess bring a sting into your life?
You withhold praise, afraid that you might lose your own status.
You withhold challenge, afraid that you might offend.
You withhold affection, afraid that you might be betrayed.
You withhold love, afraid that you might lose your power.
You withhold commitment, afraid that you might lose your independence.
You withhold wisdom, afraid you might lose your edge.
You withhold emotion, afraid you might lose your cool.
You withhold generosity, afraid you might lose your lifestyle.
You withhold an apology, afraid you might lose face
You withhold forgiveness, afraid you might lose the excuse to stay angry.
You withhold your best in the world, afraid that your best is not good enough.
Fear, fear and more fear. Stinginess is a way of playing small in the world, as if the qualities of the heart are in short supply and if you just keep your head down no one will notice or need you. But people do need you and people do notice you. Your stinginess neither serves the world nor does it serve you. In fact, it is the cause of so much pain in your life. Conquer stinginess by conquering fear, and remember that your thoughts, words and actions are an essential part of the fabric of life. Nothing is lost when you give with a big heart - and so much is gained. You drop a little piece of the false sense that you are defined by the things you hoard, and live with open hands and a full heart.
The 14th century Saint, Catherine of Sienna, was a vocal prophet for inclusion at a time when women had no voice. She encouraged everyone to be all that they could be in a world that is in such need of healing. “Hold nothing back,” she said. She summarized her theology with this statement, “You make the heart big, not stingy - so big it has room in its loving charity for everyone.”
Stinginess and Punishment
Sometimes we use stinginess as a form of punishment. There is a great example of stinginess and fear in the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Have you seen it? Vicky and Christina are Americans spending the summer in Barcelona. Christina is a free spirit. She is stingy with commitment, fearing the loss of independence. Vicky is uptight. She is stingy with spontaneity, fearing the loss of control. They meet the artist Juan Antonio. Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his Dad, a brilliant poet who doesn’t publish his work.
My favorite piece of dialogue in the movie is between Juan Antonio and Vicky.
Vicky: “So, uh, tell me, why won’t your father publish his poems?”
Juan Antonio: Well, because he hates the world, and that’s his way of getting back at them — to create beautiful works and then . . . to deny them to the public.”
Vicky: “ My God. Well, what makes him so . . . angry toward the human race?”
Juan Antonio: “Mm, because after thousands of years of civilization . . . they still haven’t learned to love.”
I can understand his frustration, but I don’t believe that being stingy will bring love to the world. On the contrary, it will just spread more fear and mistrust. That’s the unending cycle of stinginess.
So what are you waiting for? The world doesn’t need to be punished. It needs to be healed; and that will happen when we surgically remove fear that grows like a cancer when left unchecked. When you give something, you haven’t lost it. You have created more of it. There is more than enough to go around. Dwell in abundance.
You Get What You Give
Jesus said, “If you give to others, you will receive a full amount (measure) in return.” In fact there will be so much that even if you pack it down and press it together you will have to use your toga as a bag to carry it around. It’s a nice image. It reminds me of one of those television game shows where they have a cash cage, with dollars blowing around, and you have 30 seconds to grab as much as you can. People get very creative and use their clothing to horde the money. Maybe that was part of the purpose of the oversized gowns in ancient cultures: extra storage.
I don’t believe that Jesus was talking only about money. This saying occurs in the context of the passage about not judging others and forgiving others. If you live in a world of judgment, you will drive yourself and others crazy with your impossible standards and stingy perfectionism.
What word is in the middle of the word “forgiveness”? Give! Don’t be stingy with forgiveness. Give mercy. Give the benefit of the doubt. Give second chances. Accept that others are doing the best they can, and the same river of acceptance will flow freely back to you.
What are you waiting for? If you store up your treasures in barns waiting for some tomorrow, you could miss your chance to enjoy them. There was a tragic story that came out of Israel earlier this year. A woman had inherited one million dollars. Because she didn’t trust banks, she hid the cash inside her mattress. She was leaving it there for some future time. One day while she was at work, her daughter wanted to surprise her with a new mattress. She came into her Mom’s home, removed the old mattress and replaced it with a new one. When the Mom came home, she was beside herself. She searched all the local garbage dumps but found nothing.
Apparently this is a true story. However it sounds awfully like an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants to me,; where Mr. Krabbs goes into a cash coma when he loses a mattress with all his money in it.
Apply the principle to much larger things than money; like forgiveness or praise. If you store up kindness or mercy for some future time, you just might miss your chance to express them. Don’t delay. Express gratitude and praise while you have the opportunity.
Making the Most of Opportunities for Kindness
You don’t want to lose perspective with your generosity, as if you will begin being generous eventually. Now is the time to make a difference. A man asks God, “God, how long is a million years?”
God: “To me, it’s about a minute.”
The man: “God, how much is a million dollars?”
God: “To me it’s a penny.”
The man: “God, may I have a penny?”
God: “In a minute.”
The musical Rent makes this point so well. It’s the story of homelessness, drug use, AIDS and broken hearts. In the midst of so much heartache, it asks the question: “How do you measure life?” Is it in the numbers of minutes in a year? Is it the wealth you acquire? Or is it in the moments of love you share?
The way you measure life will be the way you measure other people’s value and the way you measure your own inner worth; love, love and more love.
What gets in the way of you accepting yourself and being kind to others? What fear stops you from living in abundance and being generous?
You Never Know When Love Will Return
The fact is that you never know when your acts of kindness will return to you.
A farmer in South Dakota lived in a remote area, and her old and frail father lived about 12 miles away. One day as the farmer was driving home she saw a car by the side of the road. She didn’t usually stop for strangers, but for some reason decided to stop and see if the man peering into his smoking engine was all right. She felt huge compassion for the man, and broke all her rules by deciding to help him. She drove to a neighboring farm, picked up some water and got the man’s car moving again. He was profusely thankful, and reached into his wallet to offer her money. She refused the money, and suggested that instead of paying her back, he could pay the kindness forward by helping the next person he saw broken down by the side of the road. The man agreed and they went their separate ways.
Two weeks later, the farmer’s father called with an interesting story. He had gone to an auction about 50 miles away and had a flat tire. His daughter was horrified. She knew that he had been on a deserted strip of road that very few people drive on; and she knew that her father wouldn’t have had the strength to change the tire himself.
The father said, “You wouldn’t believe it. A man stopped to help me. I offered to pay him after he changed my tire. He refused the money and said that two weeks ago a woman had stopped to help him when he broke down and he was repaying this woman by helping me.”
That’s the spirit of generosity. You never know when your gifts will come back to you. You get what you give. So give generously and enjoy the world you create.
I honor the abundance in you that lacks nothing and gives without fear of loss. Namaste.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth p. 191
“Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give. Try this for a couple of weeks and see how it changes your reality. Whatever you think people are withholding from you–praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on–give it to them . . . . Then, soon after you start giving, you will start receiving. You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it.”
For Further Reflection (Questions that can be used privately or in groups)
1. In what areas of life do you find yourself being stingy?
2. What fears lie beneath your stingy moments?
3. What motivates you to live with abundance and generosity?
4. Have you had experiences where your generosity comes back to benefit you?