The text went something like: "Hey guys, I have some friends that just moved to Atlanta. Their moving truck was stolen last night with everything they owned inside. I want to do something for them tonight. You in?"
In the blink of an eye, these new friends of mine had everything they purchased, collected, received, and built in their first year of marriage stolen from them. Keepsakes lost. Heirlooms taken. All of their belongings had become memories overnight. And after realizing the magnitude of what happened, contacting the police, and making a few calls to loved ones, my new friends were being forced to come to terms with their loss in an extremely rapid fashion.
And while the days and weeks to follow were filled with difficult lessons to deal with and walk through for these new friends of mine, it has since become a night they (nor I) will never forget.
The next few hours were filled with storytelling, tears, BBQ for dinner, a quick trip to Target for toiletries, a little bit of whiskey, and a whole lot of love.
These moments were shaped because of friendships forged through an authentic community that was built on generosity. And I'm not talking about the "giving a dollar to the homeless guy" generosity. Or the "here's my hefty donation to the mission trip or the non-profit organization or the tithe to my local church" generosity.
No, I learned more about generosity in these few hectic moments than I ever had before.
You see, I was wrong about generosity before this night. For so long, I saw generosity and associated it with dollars. Before, I always believed that in order to be generous, you had to have the means available to give financially to something or someone you call your friend.
And while that certainly can be (and is) a type of generosity, I've since learned that it is so so so much bigger than just a financial contribution. Generosity is a prerequisite to trust and vulnerability and authenticity and, ultimately, those things produce authentic community.
And on this night, with these two experiencing loss in a dramatic fashion, I saw a type of generosity that isn't just effective at building meaningful friendships, but is also effective at impacting people in general.
Here's what I'm telling myself when it comes to being a generous person, friend, and leader...
1) Be generous with who you are.
I recently read an article titled "The biggest threat facing middle-aged men isn't smoking or obesity...it's Loneliness." This makes me sad. Not just because it's men (it's probably true for a lot of women too), but also because there are so many people who recognize this about themselves and choose to do nothing about it. It's becoming much more commonplace to see friends, family, or co-workers succumb to burn-out, anxiety, or depression, yet even in its regularity, so many folks feel shame in sharing their own stories of similar struggles and eventual victory over them. Sometimes, being a good leader or friend is being generous with your own stories of shame, anxiety, loneliness, or heartbreak in order for those around you to remember they are not alone in what they face. And while me nor any of our friends had ever had everything we owned taken from us, we did know what it was like to lose something special to us. You don't have to hold the same story the person across from you is dealing with, you just have to know how to own your own story and listen to theirs.
2) Be generous with what you have.
Again, this doesn't just include money. The night my friends moved, all we gave was dinner, toiletries, and whiskey. So sometimes, giving what you have means time on your calendar or a resource from your collection or a connection to someone in your circle of influence or a meal around your table at home. When we make what we have available to people we teach others what it means to live for something bigger than themselves. Generosity is a pre-requisite for a life built on legacy.
3) Be generous with what you know.
As I get older, I realize how much of what I believe and understand today has been shaped by the wisdom of those who have been generous with their wisdom about faith and life and leadership. These men and women have pulled me in closely over tables with coffee or notes or tears or food and taught me what it means to experience hope and shame and fear and freedom and life and love. These individuals haven't given me millions of dollars (although that would be nice), but what they have given me is wisdom gained from years of experiencing and listening. And that, my friend, is far more valuable than an accumulation of stuff. When my friends moved to Atlanta, a lot of what we had to offer were the things we knew about this wonderful city and how to help them adjust to building a life here.
At its core, generosity is less about what it is you have to offer and more about what it is you are willing to give.
The world could use more people willing to generously give of who they are, what they have, and what they know. Because when we give, we rebel against the current culture of selfishness and we invite others into a life built around helping and encouraging others.
If you ask my friends what was so special about that night I don't think they would say the weird items we bought for them or clothes we wrangled up for their first days of work. I think they'd say the dinner we gave was good, the stories we gave were funny, the laughs we gave were therapeutic, and the time we gave was eternal.