Sometimes we stress and busy ourselves trying to gather together the most fitting gifts for our loved ones at Christmas. When we search to find the best material object to convey our thoughtfulness and find ourselves at a standstill, remember that truly the greatest gift you can give at Christmas is love! This may seem trite, but it is something that has been brought to my attention twice in recent times. I began to ponder what giving love looks like. It may take different forms for different people, for love can be expressed in many ways. As for me, I perceive spending time with someone and giving him or her your full attention to be a solid gift of love.
With that said, I do not wish to undermine the love that can be found in the act of giving physical gifts. This too can be an expression of love, but sometimes when the heart is not involved, it becomes meaningless generosity and just a ritualistic obligation. If love is to be the gift conveyed, then there must be what I have come to call “Generosity of the Heart.”
If one is to have Generosity of the Heart, his or her heart must be willing and open to be shared. As a part of this, one must be willing to share his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In addition, one must share that which they are passionate about in life. It takes a good bit of vulnerability, which may be uncomfortable for some, but it is the conscious effort which constitutes love. Love is not passive. It is an action. These aforementioned actions focus on self-sharing, but there also is the necessary component to actively participate in and engage with the life of another. One must be willing to participate in the joy of others, to celebrate with them, to help them carry their burdens, listen intently and actively, and regularly lift them up in prayer. Only then can Generosity of the Heart be active and pure love be displayed.
For myself, it is often easy to share that which I am passionate about, and often I want my emotions to be known. I may be quick to share myself, oftentimes in word, but I know this is not the case for many people. Many people keep their true selves well-guarded and even go so far as to put up a facade of a person they wish to be. If you learn to recognize people who share their hearts genuinely, you have found quality people, friends whom will endure. Their sincerity is a constant which translates into loyalty of character.
Some people may not employ Generosity of the Heart and will not share of themselves openly, because they have been damaged. Their hearts have been broken, and they have repaired them just enough so as to not fall apart. They are fragile, and they fear someone shattering that which has already been weakened and is barely holding up.
I, whom in the past has been so quick to share my heart, have in recent times grown a bit more hesitant and cold. I’ve turned to the Scripture and have been confronted with Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” I chastise myself for being so eager to employ Generosity of the Heart. Maybe I should have not been so willing and eager to let people in my life. This causes a contradiction and raises the question, how can I be generous with my heart yet also guard it? Are these two things supposed to coexist? Can they?
“Generosity of the Heart” is a term I have coined and defined. Is it Biblical or simply my own thoughts? Here, we turn to the Scripture and I find it clear that God wants us to be vulnerable with others. He tells us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to celebrate with one another (Romans 12:15), to resolve our conflicts (Matthew 18:15), and to be honest (Ephesians 4:25). Thus, I find the vulnerability which constitutes the Generosity of the Heart to be indeed Biblical.
So, if a heart is supposed to be generous, yet guarded, this leads me to believe that perhaps for myself, and many others, our outlook and approach to love has been greatly flawed. We often love people because of who they are, for we enjoy their character, we have shared delights, and their presence enhances our quality of life. Other times we love ultimately out of selfish motives to not feel lonely, to foster reciprocal feelings of worthiness, for emotional need or material sustenance. But the real motive to love people should simply be because God loves them. Period. We should not love to fulfill our own agenda, but should love to support others.
If we adjust our view of love in such measures, and actively open ourselves up, employing Generosity of the Heart, then we should also bring forth measures to guard our hearts, but not just any measures, rather just measures. This does not mean contradicting vulnerability by setting up walls and excluding others from our lives, instead our guard comes through prayer and devotion to God. It is keeping Him foremost and at the center, while our hearts lay bare. We are to be fortified by a strength other than our own, not by another person but by God. Also we don’t let our hearts pursue that which is immoral. We achieve this by the strength and counsel of God. By employing these tactics we find that at the end of the day, guarding our hearts is much less about our actions and much more about God’s.
If we love people to support them and because God loves people, and not for our selfish motives or our emotional needs, then we find ourselves much more able to forgive when a loved one hurts us. We are reminded that under God we are all equal, and, in that, equally undeserving but endowed with his same love despite our shortcomings. We can then begin to coach our own selves, saying “If God can love them, then so should I.” But as humans, we can find it extremely hard or impossible to love the extravagantly unlikeable. However, the impossible becomes possible as God endows us with his Holy Spirit which strengthens and counsels us to love the unlovable. We love with the love that God has given us – not our own.
All of this takes us further into an exploration of love and raises the question, what are the characteristics of God’s love? It is profound and vast and surpases human understanding, but we find a description of it in first Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
Love never fails.”
The guarded heart in worldly standards is in direct contrast to this. A worldy guarded heart would keep a record of wrongs, as to avoid being wronged and hurt again. It would not always trust, as it would use more discretion. This would all seem wise, but God uses the seemingly foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). Biblically speaking, to give trust is one of the acts of love, and if your heart is fortified and guarded by God, you can’t be shaken.
Some might argue, if you love with so-called “God’s love” isn’t that insincere, as it is not truly from your heart? Well, we are asked by Jesus to deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). As our hearts become aligned with His, we are able to both make selfless sacrifice and find joy at the same time in this type of love. It is the truest, most pure, transformative love, for it is direct from the source. God is the source of true love.
Unfortunately, many people settle, or are so deceived, into counterfeit love. It is unfulfilling, creates conflict and heartache, and ends in distress. Counterfeit love always weighs the give and take. It focuses primarily on feelings, not on sacrifice. It relies heavily on the physical and while ignoring spiritual. It is motivated by emotion and winning favor, and it constantly seeks validation and fulfillment.
This is all ill-thinking, for God should be the source of your well-being. He should be the sole source of your fulfillment, and his validation should be the only one that truly matters. We must throw out counterfeit love and tear down our worldly guards. We need to open ourselves up to Generosity of the Heart. May it be our prayer that loving people with God’s love be at the forefront of our minds. And we must take to heart and memory that “We love because He first loved us.” -1 John 4:19.
As you are reading this, you may be nodding your head in agreement, yet are not exactly sure how to put this into practice. Or maybe you are confused by the lofty rhetoric. Let’s put it into practical tasks. To employ Generosity of the Heart, here are some guidelines to get started:
- Seek opportunities to celebrate with one another.
- Take the time to truly listen.
- When you start to feel resentment or just frustration, pause, and remember that God loves that person.
- Be willing to open up and share your feelings with others.
- Participate in someone else’s favorite activity or show interest in his or her passions.
- Regularly pray for individuals’ spiritual growth.
- Spend time in prayer, in the Bible, and in God’s presence daily, to fortify your own heart.
…And Remember, the greatest gift you can give at Christmas and in the upcoming new year is love which comes through Generosity of the Heart.
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