When I was young my dad had an interesting way of teaching my sister and I how to value a promise. Whenever there was something that I wanted that required responsibility he would actually draw up a contract. The contract would outline my responsibilities, and both my parents and I would physically sign it to seal the deal. The contract was a symbol of a promise, an expectation that if I put my name down to something I would be faithful to it.
Our first contract was drawn up when I was six years old and wanted a hamster. My dad still has the “official note” in his desk that stated.
“I, Haley Smith, will not be ugly to my sister for the rest of my life.”
With such a generous proclamation how could my parents not give in to me? There would be some minor trouble in keeping this promise but the value of having a contract stuck. Putting my name down to a responsibility meant something. When we sign our name we are not only affirming a promise but we are conveying something about who we are.
Today we put our name down to a number of different things: the way we spend our time, do our work and share our resources reveals what we care about and what we are faithful to in our lives.
In Matthew 25 the Parable of the Talents speaks of a man who entrusts his property and talents to three of his servants. Each was given a different amount, but they all received the same expectation - to invest and care for what they were given.
Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, wrote about The Parable of the Talents a few months ago in a blog entitled Living Generously. One day in chapel Lindsey decided to take a risk and pass out sealed envelopes to the 1,000 students in attendance with undisclosed amounts of money ranging from $5 to $100. Lindsay was interested to see if the students could be fruitful with what they had been given. They were asked to take whatever amount was given to them and invest it in any way they chose. His intention was not to be showy but to encourage a spirit of generosity.
What Lindsay found was surprising. Some students pooled their resources and supported one cause while others used their money to provide meals for the homeless or support struggling friends and family. None of the students buried his or her talents – all chose to invest it in something or someone else. The ideas were not only meaningful on an individual level, but the sum of the acts ended up affecting thousands of people.
Lindsay’s experiment is encouraging on two counts. First, it says a lot about the way millennials choose to give. The students were unique in their ideas. They gave in very personal and impactful ways. The money may have not been theirs, but they were thoughtful in the way it was used. They were also not limited to what was in their envelopes but generously dispersed their time and gifts as well.
Secondly, it shows that generosity is something that needs to be challenged. It is not simply an innate characteristic, but it has to be learned and practiced in our daily lives. We need others to keep us accountable and faithful to what we have been given so that our grip will begin to loosen on the things that we love and tighten on the ones we love.
As we help young people in our lives invest their talents, let’s help them take seriously the things they put their names to just as God so generously put his name on us.