Let’s say that you want to be more generous during this Advent. So you walk outside your door, feeling all resolution-y and tinsel-trimmed, and somebody asks you for money and you say, “Of course!” and then… look in your wallet and all you have is your debit card.
This is basically how I live, in more ways than dealing with beggars. It’s obviously related to the overpromising thing I already talked about, but the problem here is a little different, and has two aspects. The first is that I want to say yes but I’m genuinely unprepared. If you know that people will ask you for certain things and you want to give them what they need, you need to have those things with you at the time they are most likely to ask. There’s no point in just vowing to say yes more often, or be more generous or some other abstraction, if you don’t ask yourself what you’ll actually need in order to do that.
The other issue is wanting to say yes but being morally unprepared. I’m often unprepared to be as open and self-giving as I’d like to be because I get really uptight about being in control of, especially, my time. If I’m watching a DVD I don’t want you to call. If I’m trying to work I don’t want you to have a crisis. On a practical level I have everything I would need to be present and loving toward you (viz., a telephone) but on a moral level I’m unprepared.
It’s possible to prepare for love and service by surrendering the need to be in control. I’ve managed to do this when it comes to my pregnancy center work. If I get a call with a 202 or 240 area code I will pretty much always pick it up, even if I’m asleep, working, having fun, whatever, because it’s probably a client. I’ve trained myself to accept that there is no such thing as “me time” here. I’m actually much worse about taking the same attitude toward people I know well, even my friends. I’m trying to remind myself that almost everyone in the world gets along without “me time”; almost everyone is on call for the people they love whenever they can be on call, and in a certain sense, that’s actually what active love is. Surrendering control of my time, and not resenting that surrender, is I think one of the big ongoing projects in my moral life.