Generosity of Spirit

Last year as some of my fellow teachers and I were talking about the end-of-semester comments we have to write for all of our students, a teacher remarked that one of her favorite phrases to use (and which she reserves for special students) was “generosity of spirit.” She explained that there are often students in her classes who are not only smart and intellectually curious, but who also have a knack for stepping back and letting other students shine, who are willing to really listen to their classmates and respond to their ideas and concerns, and who approach their own work and fellow students with a certain kind of acceptance and understanding.

Some of my recent struggles have got me thinking about my difficulties with generosity. I’m not so much worried about material generosity (doing service or giving to charities). The kind of generosity I’ve been pondering has more to do with one’s attitude and approach to people. For example, one of my faults that I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on recently is my tendency towards selfishness, especially when I find myself in situations where I’m frustrated with and/or hurt by the decisions of other people. When I’m in emotional distress because of the decisions of others, I will often wall myself up and try to send the message (often passive-agressively) “why can’t you recognize my pain?!” I often forget that there’s another side to the story, and plenty of pain to go around. And I can just be generally selfish. So, here are some of the things that I’ve recently resolved to do:

*I want to think the best of other people’s intentions (i.e. give people the benefit of the doubt). Even if their decisions are problematic or hurtful, I want my first assumption to be that they had a reason for what they did that seemed important.

*I want to do my best to treat others in the ways I know they want to be treated, rather than the ways I might treat them out of habit.

*I want to be able to let go of small frustrations and irritations and enjoy the many wonderful things that other people contribute to my life.

*I want to embrace others for who they are rather than who I wish they would be.

It’s an incomplete list, and a lot of what “generosity of spirit” entails is an attitude rather than specific behaviors, but that’s a good sampling of some of my current desires on this front. I guess what I’m trying a little harder to do is to see others as I think the Lord probably sees them–their potential and goodness in addition to their faults and flaws. Which is not to say that I won’t notice those faults. But if I’m being “generous,” I’ll hopefully see much, much more.


  1. Seraphine, I really like this phrase, “generosity of spirit.” It does sound like something great to work toward. I’m far too selfish now to approach it. It kind of reminds me in this way of Jesus’s description of Nathaniel in John 1, saying that he was a man “in whom is no guile.” That always makes me think, wow! No guile at all? I’m chock-full of guile! Wouldn’t that be great to be guileless?

    I also really like your list, particularly the first item, probably because I’m so bad at it. I too often suspect others of having evil motives toward me when in fact they’re indifferent or perhaps even positively disposed towards me.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s particularly good for the new year.

  2. As I have recently been called to the YW in our ward, I really need to work on this. I have realized I just don’t have the patience or understanding for teens anymore. Luckily my own kids have a few years to go, so this is a needed work time for me. I love how you included “generosity of spirit” with allowing yourself to enjoy those around you for who they are. This is what I think I am going to have to do to survive YW again.

    Last year I worked on allowing myself to be excited for others joys, whether it was a new kitchen, vacation, or small things. I found it helped me get closer to people and made me realize how much I wanted a very simple life. Although I could celebrate with a friend, I realized that some of the stuff others were happy about would do nothing for me. That was rather unexpected and peaceful.

  3. Great post, Seraphine. Generosity of spirit strikes me as a very worthy aspiration, one I should definitely cultivate, and one I want to cultivate, especially when I think about how peaceful it is to be with people who are generous in this way. Thank you.

  4. I am an impatient person. Of the two modes of operation I routinely employ one is ‘go’ the other is ‘go faster.’ Generally speaking, that is how it is.

    I recognize the ineffectiveness of this part of me when I meet new people or interact with acquaintances at church. I get frustrated and it’s been reported back to me (usually much later) that their first impression of me …. cold, aloof, standoffish, uppity. (my kneejerk thought ? “if only they knew what I was truly thinking.”)

    Of course, I don’t want to be that way and I have a sincere desire to live a Christ-like life. Everything around is brighter and better when I live squarely in His light. A good friend of mine simply said to treat everyone I know like they are new … new to the ward (“can I help you find something?”), new to RS (“Can I sit with you?”), new to the area (“you need help finding a good orthodontist?”), etc.

    It works when I behave in a sincere manner, but quite frankly – it’s difficult and I get grumpy and frustrated and we start all over again. I think I’ll tuck “generosity of spirit” into my tool box and use it regularly. thanks a ton.

    it’s a great thursday out there.

  5. Ziff, I’m chock full of “guile” too. 🙂

    miles, I really like that idea of being happy about the joys of others–it seems like a great idea for drawing closer to others and for shifting one’s own attitude. And if you need to have any discussions on approaching and/or dealing with teenagers, let me know–I spend hours and hours with teenagers every week (I’m a HS English teacher), and I love it.

    Eve, thanks.

    Mary Magdalene, I can be impatient too, and I know that many, many people find my aloof. I think I’m getting better, though–my job is certainly helping with this!

  6. I love that phrase, Seraphine. It describes my mother growing up, from whom I learned much of what I know and believe about patience, meekness, mercy, humility, etc.

    I define “charity” much like this phrase: the willingness to realize that all of us see through our own glasses, darkly and, therefore, to cut everyone some slack in how we categorize and view them – to be more generous than we naturally would be.

    This is another post I will be linking on my own blog eventually.

  7. Ray, thanks. 🙂 I agree that “charity” can have a similar definition, though, for me, “charity” encompasses so much that I wanted to use a different term that was more specific to what I was trying to get at.

  8. Thank you for this post. It’s been rattling around in my brain the last few days, and I would love to learn to be more generous of spirit.

    I’m trying to figure out how I can learn to let go of keeping score in my relationships. It turns out I’m kind of petty, and I’m embarrassed by it. If I sense that I’ve been doing more service for a friend or family member than they’ve been doing for me, I sometimes feel resentful. If I a friend or family member seems to have more advantages than I do, I sometimes get jealous. I think I’m a little too attuned to the idea of justice, what’s fair, what I deserve, etc. I want to quit carrying around my justice yardstick everywhere. Ultimately, I don’t really want what I deserve; I want forgiveness and mercy and eternal joy.

    Once I was complaining to a (non-LDS) friend about someone in my life that I consider an imposition. I had a long list of evidence about how this person was treating me in a way that wasn’t fair or reasonable. The offenses in question were real, but (in retrospect) fairly trivial. My friend said, “Just give it to God, and let it go.”

    I don’t quite understand what that means, but I would like to. It sounds great – “Here you go, God. I don’t want these anymore – they’re all yours. I’m tired of carrying around the anger and indignation and annoyance. I’m dumping them on you. Could you just take them to the D.I. for me or something?”

  9. jane, I love your phrase “justice yardstick”–I have one of those too, and while it can be helpful for me when setting boundaries, it can lead to the petty behavior which you so aptly describe.

    When it comes to “giving things to God” and “letting go,” I’m often better at that when it comes to big things (i.e. I’ll have an emotional/physical/spiritual meltdown if I don’t turn to God) than the little things. My approach to dealing with my petty jealousies and my “justice yardstick” tends to be to cultivate gratitude for all the things I have and for things the people in my life do for me (if I think about the ways family members have blessed my life on a large scale, it can be easier to relax about the little things that are happening right now that I’m frustrated about). I don’t often give these little things to God, but doing this does help adjust my overall perspective. But it can be difficult. Good luck figuring it out!

  10. Thanks for the link, Ray, and for your response, Seraphine. Lots of food for thought. I am going to keep mulling this stuff over; it feels really, really important.

  11. Re: generosity of Spirit, Generosity is a quality of Spirit & is a gift given to one needing the experience of giving – all benefit!


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