You Won’t Even Notice: My Problem With “Easy” Charitable Giving

Being that the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about generosity, and giving, and what it means to give “sacrificially.” In meditating on the idea of sacrificial giving, some light was shed onto a dark part of myself, and though it revealed an ugly truth, I’m better off for it, and I hope that you will be, too.


I like to think of myself, and my family, as the generous sort. As the type of people who will forgo some of our own wants, in order to provide for the needs of others. But when I peek behind that veneer of generosity, reality doesn’t match up.

I realized this some nights ago. I was feeling really anxious, the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and I had done something wrong, and was about to get busted for it, except in this case, I didn’t have any idea what I had done wrong, or who was going to bust me. All I could think about was Kalkidan, our Compassion Child, and how there are so many children just like her, whose basic needs aren’t being met, and how completely unjust that is. And that’s when I got busted.

You Won’t Even Notice

When I tell people about Compassion, and how they should sponsor a child, the first thing I say, every single time is “$40 a month might sound a lot, but I swear to you, won’t even notice it.” “You won’t even notice it” is not only true, but it’s tragic. (I have the same feeling about auto-drafting tithes from one’s bank account, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Here I am, feeling somewhat proud of our family, for giving some of our money to a child in need, but really, how sacrificial is it if we don’t even notice? It’s not like we’re giving our excess money away. We’re giving the excess of the excess. How noble. (I’m okay being sarcastic if I’m levying it on myself.) Needless to say, I’ve been humbled.

False Sacrifice

But here’s the thing: when we first began giving to Compassion, it felt like a sacrifice. Instead of buying a bottle or two of wine during the month, we’d send money to Kalkidan. But is forgoing wine really a sacrifice? I mean, when so many people don’t have access to clean water, is my skipping out on wine really sufficient?

The fact of the matter is that I’m completely comfortable giving, so long as it doesn’t inconvenience my family too much, and that attitude has come to really disgust me. Why does my child deserve nutritious, organic, GMO-free food, when so many children around the world don’t have enough food, period?

Light Chases Out Darkness

I want to notice that I’m giving. If you’re the church-going type, you’re familiar with the idea that giving is an act of worship. It’s a way of acknowledging that we only have what we have because God gave it to us in the first place, and showing gratitude and love by giving some of that away to others. And if you’re not the church-going type, no doubt you believe in some form of “paying it forward.” Can I really consider our monthly gift to Kalikidan sacrificial if we don’t even notice it? I mean, I guess an easy answer is to turn off the automatic payment every month, and choose to do it manually. That’s a start.

I remember what it felt like growing up, always having to do without, and I’m so blessed to be in a position as an adult to choose to feel the burden of sacrificial giving, rather than the aching pain of an empty stomach. And it’s somewhat embarrassing to reveal the ugly parts of myself, but I think there’s a lot of truth to the phrase that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” And if previous conversations with you all has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I’m curious to hear if you guys “give without noticing it,” and which organizations you support.

If you haven’t heard of Compassion, please do check them out. Like I said, $40 might sound like a burden, but if you can “sacrifice” some trips to Starbucks, or pack a few more lunches, I don’t think you’ll suffer. 🙂 Also, in the coming weeks I’m going to talk a bit more about another organization I love, Heifer International. If you have some minutes, do yourself a favor and look into them, too.


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  1. “how sacrificial is it if we don’t even notice?”

    umm… wow… so powerful!!
    Thank you for a much needed smack in the forehead.

  2. Shannon

     /  November 19, 2012

    Hi Melissa, I too have automatic giving turned on. My husband and I support a child through World Vision and a couple local missionaries. Earlier this year, I read the book “Kisses From Katie” by Katie Davis with my high school girls small group. I was very humbled by reading the book. Check it out if you haven’t read it. By the end of the book, I started sponsoring through Amazima (Katie Davis’s organization) that helps feed and send kids to school in her community in Uganda. I started evaluating my life and definitely still have a lot to work on. However, even sponsoring three different organizations…I still don’t feel it coming out of my bank every month. My heart still aches for children who don’t have food or water…I will start with taking my donations off automatic giving. Thanks for another great post! 🙂

  3. So, here I am, a complete stranger, to you, and to your story. A mutual friend tweeted this into my stream. So, if I express this badly, it’s surely a reflection of my ignorance, and nothing of you.

    But what I HEAR is that you’re assessing this giving by the yardstick of yourself. And, while your intent is probably to spur yourself to a deeper understanding of your relationship with gratitude (a potentially valuable pursuit) my reaction is, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. (or us, actually.)

    That’s the thing. Giving isn’t about the giver. When you pick out a present for someone you love, hopefully you think about what they want and need, and not about what you would rather they wanted or needed. Giving isn’t an opportunity to shape or control someone else, and it’s not about how much we learn from the process, either, or how much we sacrifice.

    In Christmas (and Easter) terms, God’s Gift to the World was about man’s need for salvation, and not about any study-up Jesus needed about the nature of mankind. That’s the Christian example. Other faiths and cultures have other examples, but the message is generally similar. Giving is an honoring of someone exactly where they are. You may benefit from that, by developing your compassion, or creating a better world, or whatever. But YOUR improvement isn’t the yardstick.

    Which may be the long way around to say, leave the direct deposit alone. Charitable organizations love being able to count on those, and it makes every aspect of their ministry easier. If you feel you’re not stretching yourself enough, you can find another way to contribute. There’s always more to do. And I think you’ll find the whole process more joyful if you cherish being someone who, for example HAS a bank account, ready for such occasions, as well as helping in other ways.

    The blessings of the season on you and yours.

  4. I enjoyed your post. I also enjoyed Brooke’s comment. Both very thought provoking!

    Wanted to share…the couple’s group I am in at our church did a fundraiser to raise money for Heifer International. We were able to raise $3000 to purchase 3 milk menageries! It was awesome! That is certainly a great organization to provide such life-changing skills.

  5. Well, I just can’t help myself…my pastor’s message from yesterday is still reverberating in my heart.

    I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift. Christ’s gift to us of eternal life is entirely undeserved. Yet this time of year rolls around and we perfunctorily shake out a few extra forgotten quarters from the bottom of our purses (that won’t be missed) in the name of Christian charity. We love to make sure it’s bloody well known that we gave away that money, mind you. We are GENEROUS! The issue with that is the entitlement that saturates this culture. We will ‘sacrificially’ buy a barbie and a new winter coat for the poor angel tree child and feel REALLY GOOD ABOUT IT….but just so long as such a ‘gift’ doesn’t interfere with our own lengthy list of ‘needs’ i.e. a new ipod, ugg boots….you get the idea. (these happen to be coveted by yours truly >.< )

    My pastor said yesterday that If we feel we DESERVE something, we seldom feel any sort of gratitude. Like a ten year old boy who is given a pair of wool socks and a tie from his grandmother. He'll say "Thank you, Grandma" if he was raised right, but we all know that internal disappointment that the gift wasn't a Nintindo DS. That child didn't any more 'deserve' those warm wool socks any more than he would have deserved a DS…he attached no VALUE to the socks. A poor child who had no socks in the dead of winter would likely express far greater JOY in such a gift.

    But if that boy knew the glorious freedom of gazing upon his sweet grandmother, delighting that someone would deign to bestow warm wool socks upon his undeserving self, the gift would have been TRULY appreciated. He didn't deserve ANYTHING…but he got something anyway. Likewise, if we delight in the Giver of all that is good (AND BAD!! admit it, He won't remove the stones of stumbling from our paths, but He never ever leaves us alone) then we automatically focus all our worship and joy upon the GIVER….not the STUFF we were given. This thinking extends to when WE give. Our giving becomes a DELIGHT because we likewise DELIGHT in what we were GIVEN…ALL of it being totally undeserved GRACE (redundant lol, I know). All of a sudden, our sacrificial 'loss' is not seen as 'you won't even notice it'. It's seen as a joyful spreading of what HE did for us…not about the stuff…not about the sacrificed cup of coffee. Gah….my pastor said it better haha.

    If our giving to the poor is about the Giver, and not what was GIVEN…sweet honey of our worship reaches His ears. At that point, I think we may start to get it. 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 now has new meaning for me. Thank you, Father!

    Thank you for indulging me if you got this far LOL…my pastor's message was one of THOSE where you are furiously taking notes and just nodding the whole time haha….had to share! Excellent article, as usual!

  6. Tricia

     /  November 19, 2012

    Great article! The area where I am found myself thinking like that is in looking at schooling. I worked in an urban district and the things that students went without… and then to compare the needs to the district where my children go (and my district isn’t some “elite” school- it is a regular suburban public school district). It just drives me crazy thinking about how unfair it is.

    My mom thought that I was nuts because I think that money should be collected say by the state and distrubted more evenly among All the districts. She was shocked that I’d “take away” from my kids, especially for “Those kids”. I really hate it when people say “those kids” or “those people”. I always hear people talking about how “those kids” can’t learn anything, and how it is a waste of money to give money to “those schools”, and how “those parents” don’t care. It breaks my heart. Every single one of those children is *Just* as valuable as mine. Why should mine have better teachers (in some cases), have copy machines that work, have a brand new gym that they get to go to every other day, get to have recess (those kids didn’t get to), have buses that will transport *all* students (not have to have students walk up to 1 1/2 mi. away- sometimes through dangerous neighbothoods).

    I’m sorry- I just really connected with what you said about looking at your life and the lives of your children and thinking, “Why do I (or they) “deserve” this and others don’t?”

    For me part of it does involve giving- but I think giving of time is valuable as well- because it can remove the distance between the giver and the gift. Also letter writing, and speaking out against injustice and working for equal access for all.

    And maybe I’m a “liberal tree-hugger”, but if my taxes go up to support others in need then I’m fine with it. It bothers me a bit when it sometimes seems like the people who have the most complain the loudest about sharing with others.

    • “Also letter writing, and speaking out against injustice and working for equal access for all.”

      Funny, you and I heard totally different things from this article. I don’t agree at all that those with more complain the loudest about sharing with others. At the risk of this devolving into a socio-political disagreement, allow me to mention that this isn’t about everyone ‘deserving’ the same amount of ‘stuff’ or ‘opportunities’. That doesn’t seem to be the point. None of us ‘deserve’ anything…especially not at the expense of compelling or forcing the redistribution of wealth. And I am by no wise wealthy at all! God’s been working on us, teaching us about good stewardship and I have learned that allll the things I used to THINK I needed and WISHED I had were really just desires…I didn’t deserve ANYTHING. I became a far happier person. I happen to agree with your mother…only because it should never be the STATE’S purview to decide who gets what of other people’s wealth. THAT to me isn’t right. Life ISN’T fair, but socialism isn’t fair either, nor will it EVER, produce the idealistic results that many believe it will. Indeed, no….wealth redistribution will hurt more than it would help…the POOR included.

      To me, what I got from Melissa’s article, was that she felt pricked that giving had become too EASY. Perhaps God has something to say to her that she felt compelled to share, but is still working out for herself. I appreciate her honesty. Seems to me that true generosity should engender true thankfulness and humility on the part of the giver. Those who give of their time and resources tirelessly and without thought to what THEY THEMSELVES are giving up and without thought to who might be watching or how inconvenient it is for them seem to actually understand THANKFUL GIVING. Because they are truly thankful, giving is a joyful expression. Looking at the amount they give or the fact that SOME people have MORE never enters their minds…because it doesn’t matter. The STATE should never enter into the picture. And in fact, there are COUNTLESS organizations that do amazing charity work. I think people underestimate the generosity of their fellow man.

      I’ve known of many wealthy, well-off folks who take great joy in giving of their time and helping in ways that is far more valuable than just material resources. I’m sure they give generously of their money…but those types don’t feel the need to advertise how much, their humility and desire to connect with PEOPLE make it a small matter…and indeed money holds VERY LITTLE sway over them. When people assume the wealthy are across the board miserly and don’t care about the poor makes me sad. It’s simply not true. This idea that wealthy people are selfish simply for being wealthy is also troubling. No doubt there are many rich folks who are self absorbed and don’t care about the poor….I believe they are the exception to the rule.

  7. Kasinda

     /  November 19, 2012

    I really like the heart of your post, however, I have to disagree with encouraging people to stop auto-drafts. This will most likely hurt those charities they are trying to help, with the only purpose being to satisfy their own need to “feel” the sacrifice.
    The charities need the money, regardless of the amount of sacrifice it costs the giver. I find that days, weeks, even months pass extremely quickly. I forget special days in the lives of those around me-not because I don’t care, but because it just happens sometimes. I apologize and make up for it and we move onward. I would hate for those who truly need the resources (that I very much so want to give them), to have to wait for me to remember to send my monthly payment, rather than being able to depend on that automatic transaction. Sacrificial giving is wonderful. Feeling the sacrifice is good…but it’s for the giver, not the receiver. There are many other options for “feeling” the sacrifice…increasing the amount, spending a day volunteering, randomly giving additional funds/goods to causes near & dear to you. Just don’t discourage people from using a dependable, reliable way to ensure their donation reaches it’s destination each & every month no matter how busy or distracted we get.

  8. Don’t stop giving. I don’t think that giving sacrificially _necessarily_ pleases God more than disciplined giving.

    By making it a direct deposit that just means you are disciplined with your giving.

    When King David said that he did not want to offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing it was not in the context that he had to “feel” the cost of giving. 2 Sam 24:18-25

    What happened was that King David was told to make an altar at someone’s fielf. The person whose field it was, offered to provide the materials for the sacrifice. We are talking about some oxen and some wood for burning.

    King David didn’t “feel” it either. Afterall, what is a few oxen and pieces of wood to the King of Israel?

    The point he was making was that he would pay the cost, that it was not free. Not that sacrificial giving is going to “hurt” his wallet.

    Now for Mark 12:44

    Jesus said that she had given more, in percentage terms. Did he say that it was a better thing that she did? Or just an observation?

    Notice the passage just preceeding, Mark 12:38-40. Jesus is teaching us to watch out for people who do things to be noticed. Like those who give large amounts in public. But Jesus is telling us to look beyond. Look at the heart.

    The woman gave all she had. Do we need to emulate that yardstick? Do we need to give “till it hurts”?

    Remember that all we need for salvation has already been done, all we need for righteous living has been provided by Christ.

    Instead of trying to attain righteousness by our own efforts and hence judging ourselves, let’s just live in the freedom that Christ has died to give us.

    View life as stewardship of the resources God has given us. Being close to God will allow us to do His will, and if trials and tribulations come, we will still be strong in the storm (see Acts 27). But this does not mean we need to seek out troubles or “give till it hurts”.

    The more we fill ourselves with God’s love, the more we will want to express His love. And love is better than everything, better than spiritual gift, better than giving “sacrificially”.

    Hope this makes sense, not mean to be a criticism.

  9. Good gracious, you guys! I’m overwhelmed at all the different angles you saw in this, and I didn’t realize I had so many blind-spots. Imma have to write a follow up post, because you all raised some really excellent points.

    And have I told you lately how much I love you? ‘Cause I do. You all are fantastic. 🙂

  10. Bearly-here

     /  November 22, 2012

    It is Thanksgiving Day, and I suspect MJ and each of you who have commented here are thankful for more than a day off from work and a bountiful spread on the table. I am thankful, encouraged, humbled and overwhelmed by what I read here. I was searching for something totally unrelated, but found something of greater value in the original post and follow-up comments. Many times Internet searches go the other direction!

    Beside the fact that I often do give enough, I have found even when I am generous, my generosity is often followed by pride. I give, then I am proud that I gave. I become aware of my pride so I give in such a way that no one knows I gave. Then I am proud that I did not share the fact that I was generous. As Paul said in Romans 7, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand”. Better men and women than I have struggled with with this, and I have learned a few things from God’s word, from them, and even from your comments:

    1. Give generously. Stretching your giving produces a feeling similar to a “runner’s high”, or so I hear. Personally I think runner’s high is a myth! The point is, it is not about the amount, it is about being so thankful for what you have that you share it generously with someone else.
    2. Give happily. It is true that giving produces a happy feeling. If giving does not produce a happy feeling, give anyway, but you may have some other issues to deal with, for example: if you give because you feel guilty, give any way, but consider why you feel guilty. There is one way to lose the guilt, and I would be happy to share that with anyone who does not know it. But, this point is actually about a motive that exists BEFORE you give. Do you feel blessed? Happily bless someone else.
    3. Give with intention. I know someone who has to give something each time they pass a bell ringer, on the way into a store and on the way out of a store… at every store they go to. I suspect they are afraid that someone will think they don’t care if they pass a bell ringer without giving. They do the right thing in giving, and they truly have a heart to give, but they are too concerned about what others may think. Who is the better person, the one who gives $1 at each of 10 bell ringers they pass, or the person who gives $10 to one bell ringer? Neither, but the former may be overly concerned about how they look rather than about being charitable. If you have spare change or mad money, don’t hesitate to give, but plan to give as well. Budget your generosity to specific charities.
    4. Give appropriately. There is such a thing as “toxic charity”, and btw, there is a very good book by the same title. Again, budget your charitable giving to responsible charities and some great things will happen. Hopefully you will give more than you would randomly give, you will more likely give to responsible charities, the random contributions will be “gravy”, and if you are confronted by a request for charity that you are not comfortable with, you can decline knowing that you are not a humbug.

    All of our comments make giving sound so complicated. Being charitable is simple, it is sin that complicates things. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    Be thankful today and every day, because God has blessed us richly!

  11. Sarah Linn

     /  November 25, 2012

    Did you know MB kids is raising money to buy a goat or two through heifer international? One second grader raised enough money yo buy a whole goat all by herself. I can’t think of a better way to spend our Christmas money!

    • I love that you guys are doing this! We haven’t been to MB in ages, but if we come in before Christmas, Ellie will bring some “goat money.” 🙂

  12. Aaron George

     /  December 16, 2012

    Two simple lessons I’ve learned around giving:
    1. Stingy people are never happy people.
    2. Be willing to keep an open hand. While others are being blessed by what they take from your open palm it’s amazing the things that can land there when you least expect it. After all, it’s impossible for anything to move in or out of a closed fist.

  1. Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay «

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