“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” (Fred Rogers, Commencement Address at Marquette University, May 2001)
You can’t give what you don’t have” is one of those pieces of wisdom whose origins are lost, but exists as a truth that is like a well-worn trail in the woods. It underscores Walt Whitman’s wisdom: “The truth is simple. If it was complicated, everyone would understand it.”
My search of the phrase “You can’t give what you don’t have”, led me to a blog by Molly Jones, “the enlightened Mama”. What she posted is so, so true…
This [phrase] kind of seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? Like yeah I get it, if I want to donate a million dollars to the charity of my choice I actually have to HAVE a million dollars.
Sure easy when you think of it like this, but now apply this same idea to the energies and behaviors we give away. When you examine these words and what they mean it is so life changing and can really allow a person to take ownership for their own energy and their contribution to the world, negative or positive. When you can respond lovingly to a negative situation that’s because you have love on the inside to give away. When you respond negatively to that same situation take a deeper look. Whether it’s anger, frustration, resentment, judgment, etc. all of these low level energies can be given away because for some reason you have them stirring around inside of you.
I can “hear” Jesus saying, “Yup. That’s what I’m trying to teach you guys!” It’s an inside job. We can’t give away what we don’t have, but we will give away what we do have. If I haven’t connected with the grace and forgiveness of God around my own breakdowns—there will be precious little grace or forgiveness bestowed on others. No patience with my own human foibles and limitations? Guess what—I’ll be irritated and impatient with others. If I’m living on the merit system to be “enough”, I’ll demand others live the same way and measure them with my yardstick, not God’s. And on and on it goes. Richard Rohr is echoing this essential spiritual truth when he wrote:
When religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, human beings far too often become cynical, bitter, negative, and blaming. Healthy religion, almost without realizing it, shows us what to do with our pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
While the priest and Levite stepped around the injured Jew in Jesus’ story, it was the Samaritan who saw him and was filled with compassion. The Greek word translated as compassion is “esplanchnisthe”, which literally means, “to have your ‘gut’ yearn or connect with the other person”. I know some translations choose to use the word pity, but for me, it is so much more than pity. It describes the visceral reaction when one person who knows pain connects with another person in pain. It’s the ability to be fully present with the person who is hurt because we’re willing and able to connect with our own hurt and pain. It is, “I know what that is like, and I want to not just help, I am here with you.”
Once again, here is Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37):
A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The man answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ” “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” 
Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’ “
And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”
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