Saying Good-Bye to Guilt-Driven Giving

UUCJ and my boys’ school are huge pillars in my community. Both require significant levels of individual time and money to keep them afloat. As a single mom, I’m usually running on empty. So much of my energy is being poured into raising my kids and doing my own healing work that it’s often unfathomable to give even one hour of my time in any week. I’ve quelled my guilt over not being able to give more by donating a modest amount of my income to church and gritting my way through a weekly bread-baking session with 18 kindergarteners.

 As UUCJ progresses through its annual mission funding drive, in our most recent covenant group meeting we were asked to answer the question: is the church worth your time, talent, and treasure? Instead of answering yes or no, I found myself probing one level deeper in response to other members’ confessed guilt over their current level of giving. I want to know if there’s a better way to give—a way that springs from authentic generosity rather than obligatory guilt and that has an innate cyclical, nourishing nature for both the community and the individual.

 Last week, out of pure guilt, I signed up to participate in a church bake sale to raise funds for hurricane victims in Haiti. Saturday morning rolled around, and I dutifully gathered my baking supplies to make ginger crinkle cookies. I sped my way through mixing the dough without the boys noticing my project. They love to “help,” and we had a school campout to prepare for as well that morning. When I got to the last step, it hit me.

“Boys, go wash your hands. I have something important for you to do,” I said.

 “Okay, mommy!” said my 5 year old, Cameron. His eyes lit up like he was about to be handed his life purpose.

 “Remember how we had to go to the house with our friends to stay safe from the hurricane?” I asked.

 Cameron nodded.

 “Well, there are people in another country called Haiti whose houses got knocked over by the hurricane. We’re going to make cookies so our church can sell them and give the money to the people in Haiti so that they can buy new houses.”

 “Wow! Can I see pictures?” said Cameron. 

 “After we make the cookies,” I said.

 Next I gave them each a pan of sugar and asked them to roll the dough balls through the sugar and place them on a cookie sheet. Cameron had a hard time coating his dough evenly and threw himself on the floor in frustration. He has some sensory integration issues he’s been working through for over a year now, and this is a common scene in our house. I coaxed him back to the table. He tried again and created his own method of completing the task. Instead of rolling the balls, he buried them in a mound of sugar one at a time and shook them off before plopping them on the tray. Leo, my 3 year old, couldn’t care less what his balls looked like and proudly tossed them half way across the table to land in the tray. I cleaned up the boys’ mess and placed the cookies in the oven. Then I sat down with Cameron to show him pictures of Haiti and the damage from hurricane Matthew. I think he really just wanted an excuse to watch a video on my phone, so it wasn’t long until I sent him on his way to play and let me prepare for our camping trip. But later he did ask, “mommy, what about the cookies for the people in the country?” YES, I thought. He listened, and it mattered to him.

 For about 30 minutes of my time, my boys had a positive sensory experience and an effective lesson in empathy and social justice, all while I participated in a volunteer activity. I realize this is small potatoes. But it’s the little things. I asked the Universe to show me a new way, and this is where it starts for me. I’m making it a point to be open to receiving more and bigger experiences like our ginger crinkle cookies for Haiti. I believe it’s vital in sustaining and further building the communities that matter most to us.