Years ago, I was someone who, when visiting friends or family members, wouldn’t bring a gift, offer to take my hosts out for a meal, chip in for groceries, or even help wash the dishes. I didn’t know it then, but I had a poverty consciousness—never believing I had enough energy, time, or money to share.
That started to change one day at a café I visited regularly. As I was leaving, a newspaper rolled up in my hand, one of the baristas stopped me. “We don’t want you to come back here,” he said. “You’re not welcome.”
“Why not?” I asked, baffled.
“That’s our New York Times you’re walking off with,” he said.
I explained that the newspaper belonged to another customer who offered it to me after he finished with it.
The barista said he didn’t believe me. Besides, he pointed out, I never ordered anything.
I felt awful. It was painful and embarrassing to be told to not return, but I had to admit he had a point; I never ordered anything. I rationalized my stance: The price of tea was outrageous, so I’d ask for a mug of hot water and bring my own tea bag.
I didn’t stop there. Rather than buy a pastry, I’d take a few scone pieces the café would put on the counter for sampling. I’d even go back to sneak a few more, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed.
You’re a scrounger, I said to myself. As I thought more, I realized I thought I was somehow exceptional—that I didn’t have to play by society’s rules. But now that I was denied admission, I felt like an outsider, and I longed to be included.
An Attitude of Gratitude
That night, I sat at home mulling over the day. I wanted to feel included, but was I willing to change? My habits felt so deep-seated, I wasn’t sure I could.
A friend called a few minutes later to invite me to join her at a Unity church. I had never heard of it, but I decided to give it a try. This was the first time I would hear the words prosperity consciousness.
“We can only have what we are willing to give away,” the minister said during the service.
This confused me. That idea went against the way I’d been living. When the donation basket came around, I passed it on to the next person thinking, Why should I give any money? Still, I was intrigued by the messages, and I kept attending.
At another service, the minister encouraged us to give “willingly, cheerfully, joyfully, lovingly.” He said if he was not feeling positive about writing a check, he would wait until he did. The next time I sat down to write a check, I made sure I was in a positive mood and wrote “Thank you” on it, feeling an unfamiliar lightness as I did.
Giving is my practice, my growing edge, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be effortlessly generous. But developing a prosperity consciousness has changed me.
I learned about giving—not just money, but also talent and time. The church asked for volunteers to help at a local Habitat for Humanity project. I signed up. I felt awkward at first, but I started having fun helping build a house.
At the end of the day, tears came to my eyes when the mom of the family who would live there thanked us for our work. I was moved by her reaction, but also because I had been part of the team that made it happen.
Months later, I returned to the café, relieved to not see the barista who had banished me. After ordering a coffee, I skipped the newspaper in favor of writing in my journal. “I bought coffee. It’s okay for me to sit here. I’m legit. I belong.” I felt so good that before leaving, I put a tip in the jar. And that week, I donated at church for the first time.
The Growing Edge of Generosity
My introduction to prosperity teachings was more than 20 years ago, but little by little they have changed me. A recent experience showed me how much. As I washed my hands in an airport restroom, I saw a uniformed custodian at work and had a sudden impulse to tip her. I hesitated, wondering if she might be offended by the gesture. I decided to ask her directly rather than thrust money into her hand.
“I really appreciate the work you do,” I said. “Would it be okay to give you a tip?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said.
I opened my wallet and started to give her a dollar bill. But what use is one little dollar? I thought.
Okay, five, then. But my fingers had another idea. Out came a 10. When I handed it to her, she smiled broadly. I went on my way to my gate, with a spring in my step, murmuring willingly, cheerfully, joyfully, lovingly.
Giving is my practice, my growing edge, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be effortlessly generous. But developing a prosperity consciousness has changed me. I know I can not only give—I can give with joy.