In a small town in which I first Pastored, there is little that was not known by the population. A good reputation can be lost a lot faster than a bad reputation can be repaired. I needed the Church to be known as a place of caring. Faced with a need to tell the community that the church cared and wanting the congregation to both buy into the idea and wanting to involve the congregation in the solution, I thought long and hard as to a methodology. There was only one hospital in town. Every baby born in the county took its first breath in The Clearwater County Hospital.
I asked the some of the ladies of the church to create something I could give to each newborn. The solution was a pair of homemade knit booties. We added a card from the church with good wishes and an invitation.
Before I knew it I was inundated with the most adorable knit booties you could ever want. The ladies of the church bought into the idea that their wares which would be the first gift a new child would use. I pumped up the knitting crew with ideas like “Booties from Jesus” and “Gifts from the Maji.”
We were going to do something out of the ordinary. To give without any expectation. There seems to be an insidious thought pattern in the church. A thought that there is a reciprocity timeline. That is to say, if I do something nice for someone that person becomes obligated to respond in an appropriate manner and in an assumed appropriate time period. If I do good things I should be rewarded because now I deserve it. One definition of karma is: moral law of cause and effect governing the future. If I give you a compliment, you are expected to respond with either a self-deprecating comment or an equally gracious compliment in return. If you receive a Christmas card the week before Christmas you have to make a mad dash to the Hallmark store and send one back immediately. If I offer you half of my cookie you have to offer me some of your Cheetos. It is just common politeness. We make sure everyone gets equitable gifts for their birthdays, so when it is your turn you will get gifts in return. The problem with this reciprocity mindset is it always seems to be accompanied by disappointment if the giver does not get gifted in return.
When you give someone a gracious compliment like, “you are a great speaker,” and they return with “I know that,” you are hurt. We find ourselves wallowing in disappointment when our ample generosity is not met with the expected results. The problem is not with the complement being not received, but it is our return expectation. The issue was that we gave with a motive of reciprocity. The motive behind telling someone you like their new shoes is partly dictated by the reasonable expectation for them to tell you that you look good in your terrible shirt. This mindset no matter how subtle ruins the true meaning of gift giving. Though our intention is likely pure, we can unintentionally mar the beautiful experience of giving by focusing on what we will eventually receive in return.
When we let go of the notion that we deserve to receive gifts or actions or behaviors based on our giving, then and only then can be the kind of giving displayed by God.
When gifts are given laden down with expectations, they cease to be gifts and become units of exchange that is offered up for some future reward.
As those ladies gathered around together to do ministry they may have had grand expectations. But the gift itself was love.
If you have trouble divesting yourself of your expectations, you may need to reflect upon the root of your inability to act in the true spirit of giving. Each time you make a gift ask yourself if there is something you hope to receive in return. You may be surprised to discover that you expect to be repaid with an easy life, financial windfalls, or opportunities. We have to go beyond this. The Church had to become a place of selfless generosity. And we did that by letting go of our expectations.
To integrate this most selfless form of generosity into the life of the church and even in the lives of individuals, you will have to let go of your need to be in control. Giving without expectation is letting go of the timetable, it is releasing the control of the outcome. Giving selflessly and without expectation eventually becomes a profound joy that stands alone, separate from any and all conditions.
We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation. Expectations are often characterized by unfulfilled desires. Expectation is about calculation. Expectation is manipulation of the response. Expectation may not always be realistic. Expectation has no surprise. Expectation is often disappointed. Expectation is typically fixed and frozen. It is inflexible and rigid. It is unable to give or bend or to change. The worst part of expectations is what happens when we just don’t give them up. We hold on to them as if they were gold. They infect and overwhelm us, like viral flu that simply will not go away. It consumes us like the plague. We are unable to give them up. We are not able to let them go. Expectations change us. They affect how we see the world around us. Expectations start to rule our responses to everything in our lives. Expectation is so rigid, we always respond negatively. We become angry. Sometimes unmet expectations cause us to even more force our expectations.
When little results were seen from our booty ministry, someone said, “If the booties were better constructed, or if the invitation was worded more eloquently we would get a better response.” Expectation was pushing out the hope and with it the joy.
Hope is much different. Expectation is the assumption of success, false or not, hope is the wish for something to happen. Hope is about imagination. Hope is alive. Hope responds. Hope allows others to grow. Hope is not limited by our experiences because it does not die when unmet. Hope is not directing the responses or the lack of response. Hope is always realistic and can happen. Hope always comes with a surprise. Hope never results in disappointment. Hope admits uncertainty. We may have to adjust our hopes but we can always keep hoping. Hope helps us to keep moving forward. Hope fills with life.
When someone does not live up to our hopes, we can keep hoping for them because hope is flexible. We may adjust our hopes based on what we learned. We may lower our hopes realizing they were too unrealistic. What I learned from the God of Idaho and dozens of pretty bootees is, “There is no such thing as a false hope.”
I don’t know if a single booty ever changed the mind of a new mother and father to come to the church. I don’t know if the plan was a good one. I don’t know if sometime, in some place, the future a parent or even the child will pick up that first gift from the ladies at the Church of the Nazarene and have their life changed. But I do choose to believe that no work, no effort given selflessly and in the name of Jesus is for naught. I choose to believe these special ladies, sometimes with sore hands and failing eyesight, did ministry. They made an effort outside of themselves. They felt part of the church. They felt an inner joy in giving in the name of God. They gave in hope. And it is in these moments of joy that these lady saints enjoyed the very presence of God. Love is always bestowed as a gift – freely, willingly and without expectation. We don’t love to be loved; we love to love.
Love is part of the human condition.