A friend of mine and I were having lunch the other day and he was telling me how his home was broken into while on vacation this summer. His wife was shaken to say the least and very concerned. Since the event, they have installed a lighting control system, internet based camera surveillance system, and a home alarm. I asked what was stolen and he said that they took the TV and stereo but that was about it. Then he said something that really made pause, he said that they took more than possessions, they stole their sense of security.
Have you ever stolen anything? I have, some things more significant than others but it was a long time ago, in a much different life. As I thought about my friend’s story, I considered what I stole and why I did it. Then, another thought hit me, in truth, I am still stealing, and so might you be.
A measure of how much you want something is how willing you are to steal it. You would never steal a car, right? No, of course not, you don’t want it bad enough to break the law. However, if your child was in a burning building and you had to get there, you would find the nearest vehicle and jump in, even if it was a police car. You get the point. Other than in extreme circumstances, what might you want so badly that you would steal it? Well, it all boils down to time, talents, or treasures. Those are things that you, I, and others have that we can do what we want with. When we feel that we do not have enough of one of them, a natural self preservation system kicks in and we try to get more. It is not wrong at all to want more of these, it is natural, we are designed to advance. Where it becomes unnatural is when we want more than we should have.
How exactly do we steal these things? Ever shop online at work? Stealing time from your company. Ever hold back from trying something because of fear of failure? Robbing the world of your gifts. Ever turn in a fuzzy expense report, not leave a tip, stand by a punch clock waiting for the next five minutes, not provide all tax information, keep too much change? All examples of stealing money. I am leaving a ton of examples out here. Here is one more that gets me in the gut. How do you spell love to a child? T-I-M-E, something I rob my kids of way too often.
You get the point and by now you are coming up with justifications. I know, I do it too. If you had my life, you would do it too. I don’t make enough money. I am not skilled enough. I work two jobs. All of those are real and relevant, but none of those justify stealing. When we steal these things, we are much like the house thief taking security as much as possessions. Our companies security it tied up in its P&L. The security of the world is founded in its ability to progress. The the security of the waitress is in their ability to make tips. Finally, the security of my child is found in my love for them as shown by my time with them. There is an alternative to stealing, its called generosity.
Let’s say that for arguments sake the opposite of stealing is giving. The measure of how much you love something is how much you are willing to give it away. We can grasp this. We love our kids and we give them as much as we can. We go to work for them, we maintain a safe house for them, safe cars to drive them around in, good schools, clothes etc. We give them the world, why, because we love them. That makes sense, but how is generosity a cure for stealing?
Stealing happens because of lack, either real or perceived; you want something someone else has. In order to stop stealing, thinking has to be shifted that you have enough. The key to this shift in thinking that you have enough is gratitude. Gratitude changes everything, especially perception. Spend time at a homeless shelter and you go home and tell your kids to be grateful for whatever is served for dinner. When perspective changes as a result of gratitude, a natural response is generosity. We begin to think about how much we have and start to think about the less fortunate and how we can help.
I watched a YouTube video the other day where someone gave a homeless guy $100 and a hug. They followed him with a camera to record what he would do with the money. He went into a liquor store and walked out with a heavy plastic bag. They continued to follow him into a park where he met up with a few homeless friends. He shocked his secret followers by pulling out sandwiches and chips and giving them away to every homeless person in the park. Finally, he sat down to eat himself. The man who gave the money was so moved that he went to the homeless man and started talking to him again. The man had spent all the money on food and gave it to everyone. When asked why, he said because he knew they were hungry.
Generosity is the only tangible measurement of what is in the heart. The root of generosity is gratitude. I have met a ton of people who are not generous and a few I have even had opportunity to ask why. The answer almost always is that I do not have enough to be generous with. I would argue that if you are not generous when you have a little, you won’t be either when you have a lot. That is true because generosity is a function of the heart, not of the bank account.
If you want fullness of life as measured by joy and love, you cannot afford to withhold generosity. Start with writing on your mirror in the bathroom the word gratitude. Leave it there for a week. Then put down the word generosity, leave it there forever. You can always go on stealing security to try and fill a hole in your life that can’t be filled with others people’s stuff. Or you can try something new, and start giving your way out of a life that will always beg for more.