This past week has been one of the hottest in Maine that I can remember. Two fans and wide-open windows offer little relief from what feel like record-cracking temperatures. Yet, I have no desire to purchase an air conditioner. Without a medical reason to keep our house cool, I find a measure of discomfort to be a good thing.
Like trying to stretch through a week of groceries without running to the store. Or living in a three-bedroom house with seven people (when they are all home). Or giving away something I could use for myself when someone else needs it more.
I am all for celebrating life and enjoying the pleasures that God grants us. But until I stop reading about hungry children or homeless families or the flight of desperate refugees, it gives me little pleasure to have more than I need—air conditioner included—when others don’t have enough. Philanthropy isn’t just for those blessed with big bank accounts. It is for those called to have big love. One dictionary defines it as, “the desire to promote the welfare of others.” The word itself is derived from the Latin “philanthropia,” meaning to love humankind. Jesus calls us all to be philanthropists.
“This is my commandment,” Jesus said in John 15:12-13 (NLT). “Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In comparison, laying down an air conditioner or a full dinner or a bigger house really isn’t that tough. Laying down one’s life isn’t only about being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, like the soldier on the battlefield. It is also about the everyday, little laying downs such as when we choose another’s comfort over our own.
Does this mean that we are called to embrace a life of hardship and suffering? Maybe. I am challenged by the life of journalist and social reformer Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement in the early half of the last century. Day embraced a life of “voluntary poverty,” something her granddaughter Kate Hennessy skillfully writes about in her Christopher Award-winning biography, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty (Scribner, 2017).
Having known little about Day, I was inspired by this writer-turned-activist who embraced the teachings of Christ and spent her life serving the poorest of the poor without insulating herself from their pain. As Day discovered, such love begins with God.
“We love each other because he [God] first loved us,” says I John 4:19. In the life of Christ I find one who willingly suffered life’s greatest discomfort – death on a cross – to extend the depth God’s philanthropy to me.
Money isn’t the only way to give, but it is often the most direct and necessary. I once heard a Washington D.C. priest, who’d founded an inner-city program for disadvantaged youth, describe money as “Units of Love.” And so, as the air temperature climbs, my humid house reminds me that there are many whose discomfort far surpasses my own, and I hope to spend less so that I can share more.
Award-winning author Meadow Rue Merrill writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle.