I stagger away from the shopping frenzy that is Leeds city centre in the run-up to Christmas. I’m burdened with own-label shopping bags indiscreetly disclosing my buying habits. I stumble awkwardly over the outstretched hand of a beggar and realise that I have been sidestepping other anonymous outstretched hands at intervals all along the precinct.
Questions about the authenticity of these huddled human beings, excuses about being in a hurry and having my hands full provide a flimsy license to avoid giving anything, even a smile. But I can sense the growing tension in my mind and the guilt in my heart. Christmas messes with my money-mind.
Here’s what happens as Christmas approaches:
Firstly, part of me loves to be generous and join in all the giving (and receiving!) but another part of me resents the way the tinsel tsunami intimidates me into spending more than I want - and on stupid stuff. I mean, how much ends up unused and abandoned on bathroom shelves, at the back of wardrobes, or slipped secretly into the bin? I want to be generous but I don’t want to be played – my mind is caught in the tension.
Secondly, the very fact that I can afford to go shopping makes me acutely aware of all those for whom every day is a struggle, never mind Christmas Day. The collision of my wealth and other’s poverty triggers guilt in my heart.
My normal carefully thought-through budget for giving and for spending gets overturned by spontaneous and foolish present buying or by spontaneous and guilt-fuelled philanthropy. I am all for spontaneity in the way we use money—it is an important component in minimising its power over us—but not when it’s the result of a messed up money-mind.
As always, scripture comes to our aid with St Paul’s injunction to the Corinthian church:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (I Corinthians 9:7-8).
Joy and abundance are meant to be the travelling partners of generosity (and in fact of spending and saving as well). Reluctance and compulsion are signs that all is not well in our money-mind. When we give to the church and to the poor and when we give and receive gifts at Christmas we can do so in an environment of joy and abundance rather than tension and guilt if we first come to the Great Giver and invite His Holy Spirit to tutor our money-mind and guide our hearts. Then perhaps the Christmas spending and giving can be cheerful.