I am an addict. I thought I was still on a nonfiction-book moratorium. In September of 2013 I had over 60 nonfiction books in my to-be-read pile. I was determined not to buy any. I would not take any free books. I was determined to read one a week to get through them.
The good news is I have since read exactly 60 nonfiction books.
The bad news is I still have 37 books on the nonfiction to-be-read shelf. Not such a well-enforced moratorium apparently. I am an addict.
I am an addict in another area as well: charitable giving.
Hold a food drive, organize a school supply collection or ask for toy donations; I’m your gal. I love to pack my Operation Christmas Child boxes or a backpack for Journey Bags to help a child placed in foster care. Take up a special offering for an important need, and I am the proverbial cheerful giver.
Is it because I’m an addict, craving the high giving brings?
One of the books from the shelf was Robert Lupton’s Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor, which came out in 2007. (He has since written Toxic Charity, which further refines these ideas for a church audience and covers short-term mission trips more completely.) He asked a question that made me uncomfortable:
“Am I really helping or is this just to make me feel good?”
Well, I do feel good, but isn’t it helping the poor, the down-trodden, as well? People need this stuff.
Lupton turns the screws when he says:
We are easily tempted “toward ‘doing for’ the poor rather than ‘doing with’ them.” First, because “it feels so good.” The second because “it is much easier to do for people. It is so much quicker . . . to box up food in the church kitchen than to sit at the kitchen table of a needy family and work out a budgeting plan.”
In. Out. Done. Feel all good inside.
In 2013 I reviewed Peter Greer’s The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good on the blog. This sentence had hit me in the face then:
“It’s possible to sacrificially serve God and be completely self-centered in the process.”
And yet I can’t say it’s changed the way I feed my addiction too much. But it should.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop donating to pressing needs. But I need to be looking for more, and not just more happy feelings for me.
What we need to seeking is not feeling good, not even servanthood, says Lupton, but friendship. Jesus calls us his friends, not servants. And we should develop friendships with people who are in difficult economic situations so we can live out of that friendship. “Friends . . . are free to give and receive help from each other,” said Lupton. There is no longer a giver who knows best and controls the other but rather a mutually beneficial relationship.
Friendships take time. Do I have what it takes to commit to friendship with those in need? The high won’t be there. And I’m addicted to the high. Actually, a lot of the time friendship might feel way more like slogging through mud than sipping a mochaccino. The warm fuzzy feeling will be infrequent. But I will be acknowledging the worth of the individual, the innate talents entrusted them by God, and even allowing them to teach me.
Maybe they can help me kick my book addiction.