Advice: In Hard Times, "Give More" – UPDATED

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
— Mark 12:41-44

Sometimes I get emails from people who are anticipating a bad result of a biopsy, or have put themselves into a terrible state of fretfulness and worry for some other reason, and they ask me to pray for them. And I do, because I am always happy to pray for someone; it is my privilege.

But sometimes I’ll also give them a little job to do in exchange: I’ll ask them, in all their anxiety, to pray for someone else who desperately needs prayers.

I’ll give them a very specific case to pray for, usually by name: a little girl with leukemia, a soldier who is gravely wounded, a family facing joblessness. I tell them that praying for others will help them to use up the anxious energy, and regain some perspective, and that’s true, but I also ask them to do it because I know the prayers they say for others will help them in their own lives.

Invariably, every single time I have asked worried people to pray for someone else, they have written back to say that the utterly selfless act of praying for a stranger’s concerns had lightened their own burden and brought peace to their souls and a broader, more positive perspective to their outlook.

This is important. This is something you need to remember when things get difficult for us as a nation, or for you personally.

In addition to emails asking for prayer, I’ve lately received a slew of emails saying, basically, “I’m freaking out! The country is screwed! What are we going to do!” These people are every bit as worried, fretful and unfocused in their anxiety as those worried about health and livelihood.

And so I’m giving them (and you, if you are feeling this anxiety) a little job to do: make some charitable donations, today, and in the coming weeks and months; as much and as often as you reasonably can. I’m serious.

My mother, who was a colorful sort, taught me some good habits and some bad ones. One of the good ones was that “God is never outdone in generosity.”

Come to think of it, Bernadette Soubirous, who I wrote about this morning, also used to say something similar.

But since I heard it first from Mother – who was very generous, some would say foolishly so – I’ll credit her. “God is never outdone in generosity,” she would say, “so when you’re down on your luck, don’t worry about giving to others who are also struggling, and don’t even think twice about it.”

As I wrote last September, I have found this to be true in my life – that God is never outdone in generosity. I believe it and I also trust in it, and therefore freely cast bread upon the waters.

This is part of having “childlike faith”, which Christ tells us we must have. It is part of trusting. It is part of considering the lillies of the field.

Unemployment is at 7.9% – that’s not awful, but it’s higher than we’re used to. We’re all tense – we’re listening to an agent of “hope and change” do nothing but preach “catastrophe” at every whistlestop, even as he refuses to listen to alternatives from within his own party or to consider compromise – “it’s my plan or nothing.” We hear it and realize that whatever else that is, it’s not leadership – so we’re sort of on our own. We’re watching our banks and our industries teeter and our government experiment and “try things we’ve never tried before” with the entire economy.

So, scary times, huh?

Yes. We have 800 Billion reason to be worried, and not just about the economy.

All the more reason to consider making a charitable donationhowever small – to the sorts of organizations that anyone can turn to in time of need. Bring some food to your local food pantry, regardless of what church it’s at – bring a small bag every week, if you can, of just a few items; pasta, beans, tuna, diapers, even toilet paper and feminine products.

If you can, while you can, put an extra fiver in the collection plate – that’s like 70 cents a day, and it will help them to help others when people start turning up needing help with their bills, or with putting gas in the car to go to work (or to go look for work.) If you have the ability to make a larger gift, make it now, while you can. God will not be outdone in generosity.

If – unlike anyone I know – you have the means to do something like this, yes do it; don’t forget those people who truly serve all of us, and the whole world, with their constant prayers.

Since most of us do not have such monies
, small checks can help. Buying the excellent goods that such houses offer, helps too. It keeps them alive and available to us when we seek them out for their prayers, their counsel and their open hearts. I’ve never known a monastery to turn away someone in need. Anyway they can help, they will.

And – as Mother Mary Francis, PPC explains in her book The Right to be Merry – eventually the men and women of prayer will be under the gun, themselves, because history has a way of repeating itself:

The children of light walk heedless of the source of their light. The children of darkness know better. And when the hour of darkness is at hand in any country, the first act of the powers of evil is invariably to throw the switch. They raze the cloisters. They turn the contemplatives out of their monasteries with loud speeches about the good of the state and about contributing to the social need. [...]

By a strange paradox, the persecutors of religion are always far more spiritual-minded than the common run of humanity. It is a perversion of spirituality, but it is a kind of spiritual vision, nonetheless. One has to be very spiritual-minded to grasp the true meaning of the cloistered contemplative vocation, very convinced of the supernatural values to understand its supreme significance for the universal Church. Those who hold power in communist-dominated countries have a very comprehensive grasp of it. They understand its significance quite perfectly. If they sometimes draw red herrings of “national churches” across their atheistic paths, they dare not deal even in half-measures with cloisters. We shall grow old and die waiting for Russia or (Communist) China to set up “national cloisters.”

I know this will strike some as an odd post
– it is a little odd – a strange thing to hear someone say, “yes, times are scary, so go make a donation, somewhere.” But despair is not the way of faith. Trust is. And trust does foolish things like donating to charities while worrying about one’s own job.

When you are feeling afraid, an action denoting trust always makes you feel less fearful and more powerful, whether it is praying for another or writing a check for $20.00 that you suspect you may need, yourself, down the road. It is an action that helps one get in touch with the wider world, and with feelings of selflessness, engagement and wisdom. It’s like shoring up for hard times – filling the corn cribs, so to speak – for the famine on the horizon.

And too – from a less exalted, more earthly perspective – if the government is going to decide for you how your money is to be spent, and on what projects, well…making contributions on your own is a way to, like Rahm Emmanuel, thumb your nose at all that>/em>. “I’m giving my money to this outreach program. Less for you to throw aimlessly around, Mrs. Pelosi…and I’ll take that tax deduction…”

If times are going to get harder, and seriously, that seems to be less a dreaded outcome than a damn goal for some in leadership, start taking care of the folks who may end up taking care of you or someone you know. And always remember the ones who pray for us.

And, after you’ve made a donation, find someone who needs your prayers, and pray for them. Even if you really can’t afford to give so much as a dime to charity, you can always pray. Prayer is a subversive liberty; it is freedom because no one can touch it, monitor it or forbid it. Or tax it, spend it or waste it. So pray for someone, or some group. Commit to it. You will feel better. I promise, you will. Don’t be afraid.

UPDATE: Reader Juli has mentioned and linked to Modest Needs, which I had never seen before, and which intrigues me. If you send me some of your favorite, little-known charities (besides your parish/church organizations), I’ll link to them here, or you can leave them in the comments section. Another reader has suggested Noah’s Wish, a nicely named outfit that rescues animals in disaster areas.

UPDATE II - A Plea for Help: And if you’re looking for someone to pray for, an Anchoress reader has a nephew gone missing. She is asking for prayers and – if you’re in the Ft. Bragg area – eyes peeled.

UPDATE III: Reader Susan writes to tell about a couple in Seattle who decommission oil tanks and give the oil to those in need. Wonderful. 206-365-0291; Check them out.

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About Elizabeth Scalia