I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I pretty much popped out of the womb a self-motivated child, and hit the ground running ever since. Add in some casual immigrant we-moved-to-this-country-so-you-could-have-it-all motivation and some school teachings that you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be, and there you have it: a deeply ingrained work ethic and attitude towards accomplishment. And so, I’ve run the race non-stop for 23 years. While by no means have I even come close to the finish line, I’ve crossed quite a few great milestones since I began: a good school, a good job, a good salary. Or really, since A + B = C, it seems like the real milestone is a good salary in the end.
When I view my money as something I earned, due to my oh-so-hard-work in both my education and my career, it becomes something I deserve. And when something is deserved, it’s really quite hard to part with. But here lies the problem, because it goes a little further than that, and it automatically turns giving into a zero-sum game. Every dollar that I give to a charity or someone in need is automatically a dollar less that I have for myself. It’s a pretty basic concept of removing something from my pot and putting it into someone else’s. And let’s be honest, no matter how much we try to be generous and how much we want to give, that’s pretty hard. Charity projects try to spin it in a good light, like “Oh, just give up coffee once a week and make a tiny sacrifice to donate that amount instead!”, but in the end, that’s still taking hard-earned money out of your pot and putting it somewhere else.
Now imagine this: we time-travel back a couple of weeks, and you’ve just won the $564 million powerball. Someone waves you over from your now insignificant tiny pot and goes “Hey look! This is all yours now!” Surely, surely, surely, in this scenario, every single one of you would share some of those winnings - maybe buy your parents a huge mansion, take your significant other on a crazy vacation, lend a couple mil to your friend’s app startup - and why? Because it’s a whole lot easier to give away money when it didn’t feel like yours to begin with.
What if that amazing situation is reflective of our current circumstances, though? That sure, I’ve worked hard, but if you take a step back, a lot of my success and well-being comes from circumstances well beyond my control. My parents cared enough to place me in high achieving programs from a young age, I was fortunate enough to go to a good school district where my teachers and classmates challenged me, I endured micro-aggressions but for the most part escaped relatively unscathed in terms of racism or bullying, I got into a great university that was pre-professionally focused, I had multiple friends guide and recommend me towards good internships, and I was fortunate to intern for a firm that had a high return-offer rate which ultimately translated into a well-paying job. Yes, I worked hard and yes, I’m ambitious. But I would be blatantly lying if I said it was just me. Because it’s so much more than hard work that got me here, it’s blessings upon blessings upon blessings. And how can I look at my own money after taking a real look at my past and still say “This is mine and I earned it.”?
A few years ago at Flood Church, I first heard the concept of "radical giving.” Contrary to the standard ten percent tithe that’s often recommended, radical giving challenges this very basic assumption of why we have what we have, and therefore why we give what we give. If I truly believe, as I often say I do, that what I have is not mine, but a gift from God, how much easier is it to give away? On the flip side, how much more selfish does it seem for me to hoard onto it? How much more wrong does it seem to claim God’s money as my own and then to say “But...I worked hard for this gift!” Instead, the worry of the zero-sum game starts to melt away. Not easily, but slowly, as I learn to recognize that God has provided for me in crazy ways up until now, and surely He’ll continue in that same way to provide for me as I continue to live. It doesn't mean that dollar bills will be falling from the sky, but that ultimately my needs will be taken care of. The concept of “sacrifice” might still come into play, but it stings so much less when it stops being about reaching to take from my insignificant little pot and it starts being about sharing together in that gigantic $560 million winning.
God has been challenging me continually over the past few years. It was easy, truth be told, when I was a student and my pot was little. But since I’ve come to associate my own wealth with my own accomplishments, it's become much harder. It will probably become even harder when one day I add in a family or (knock on wood) I get laid off or (extra knock on wood) a medical emergency comes up, but ultimately doesn't God call me to the same? I’ve always been meticulous with my finances (multi-tabbed excel spreadsheets and all), but I’ve come to realize how much I cling to my savings account as my safety blanket. I pat myself on the back because I set aside an amount for donations, but that’s not radical giving. That’s I’m-safe-in-this-controlled-environment-giving. Even as I write this, I'm convicting myself because I totally had a sense of pride when I donated a seemingly large amount today, but really I knew I had enough in my “donation bucket” to do it. So it’s not easy, and I get that. And I’m not advocating throwing your money into the wind, embracing enforced communism, or just laying on the ground waiting for blessings to come. God calls us to be good stewards of our money, to work to glorify Him, and I think with that comes the need for wisdom in which charities we donate to. But maybe, just maybe, if we have a little paradigm shift and view what is in our bank accounts not as ours, but as God's, we can unclench our fists just a little bit and more freely give money that isn’t ours.
As some of you might have noticed, the past few weeks my life has been slightly dominated by Cycle for Survival and Tacky Prom. It’s been a whirlwind of leading a team of 16 riders, coordinating multiple fundraising efforts, and trying to reach our $5,000 goal. As I’ve gotten swept away in logistics coordination and getting closer to pulling my hair out, I’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate why I give to begin with, and beyond that, why I feel so emboldened to ask others to give. Of the many things I've been provided with, I've been provided with a voice - so I ask on behalf of those who have none. If you would in fact like to help us raise money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, you can do so at the following link. This year I ride in honor of Janette, a survivor and patient of MSK, and my god mother, Fairy Mom, who passed away from cancer but still managed to shine bright every single day:
Beyond that, I recommend the non-profits charity:water, Doctors Without Borders, and First Book. Charity Navigator is also a wonderful resource for finding other reputable non-profit organizations.