Herb Mather drew on over 100 interviews with generous people to write That’s What My Mother Taught Me. Mather found many of us learned to be generous by the example of another. That is certainly true in my experience.
I grew up believing tithing to be an expression of faithful living and to see giving of one’s time and talent to a wider community as equally important. While our family was not financially wealthy, I grew up with the privilege of never wanting for any of life’s necessities. My parents displayed their generous spirits through giving back to their church, the wider church and their community. My mother’s lessons for use of family resources came down to, “Give back to God first (a tithe), pay yourself next (save) and pay your bills last (spend).” If there wasn’t enough left to pay the bills in a pay period, then my mother reevaluated the bills before short-changing giving or saving.
What I learned when my mother passed did not surprise me. In their estate documents, we discovered our parents designated a tenth of their accumulated assets to UCC-related institutions. My mother left a final lesson in generosity.
It is a simple model that my wife, Julie and I followed when we created a Living Trust for disposing of our assets upon our deaths. We have made provision in the Robert O. and Julie M. Ullman Trust for ten percent of the proceeds from our estate to be dispersed to UCC-related institutions and organizations. We trust that by sharing in word and deed the lessons we have learned and lived, others will be inspired to become generous givers as well.
Henri Nouwen once observed, “Thinking well of others and speaking well of others is the basis for generous giving. It means that we relate to others as part of our ‘gen’ or ‘kin’ and treat them as family.” Nouwen’s right in so many ways. And I would add that generosity not only treats others as family but expresses our gratitude for the family whose generosity shaped us.