Kahlil Gibran once likened goodness to a flower. A flower does not try to give off a pleasant scent, it does so naturally because that is a characteristic of what a flower is. Our first goal as people who exude goodness should similarly be to be true to ourselves and who we are, and second, to get to the point where goodness comes naturally to us.
Making charity an integral part of who we are requires a change of heart, otherwise goodness will feel forced and inauthentic. In such instances, it can be hard not to feel like a hypocrite. There is not much value in doing good deeds begrudgingly or out of guilt. And certainly, we don’t want to be doing acts of service just to be seen or for the sake of some reward. This is not charity, but selfishness.
In C.S. Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters one of the characters explains that when trying to foster a charitable attitude, people will often be distracted by the desire to help starving or sick people in distant, foreign lands. There is a lot of suffering around the world we might want to alleviate, but given the distance of those faraway people and the scope and scale of such a task as world hunger, we often only experience these kinds of charity as a small donation to a non-profit or a few fleeting thoughts of pity. This is hardly productive in developing the Christ-like attribute of charity.
When trying to develop charity, it is better to begin with the self and circle out to those immediately around you. Then, if nurtured, the reach of this love grows slowly to include all local spheres of influence. This fundamental idea can be found in the surprisingly profound words of the primary hymn, “Kindness Begins with Me.” Do we show charity toward ourselves? Do we show charity to those we spend the most time with? Do we show charity for the people we interact with on a quotidian basis? We have more potential for good in those spheres, and that is where our efforts matter most in affecting the lives of others and in changing our hearts for the better.
“By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).