Unlike many Ghanaians, I was raised in the House of Self-Reliance. When life gives you lemons, you don’t turn to God and pray for lemonade. You back to the house, get a pitcher, sugar, and some cups. Then you charge 25 cents per glass to thirsty passer-bys.
You could say I was not the most sympathetic person because I believed that you – with the help of family and friends – make your own destiny. When I heard Ghanaians say, “By God’s grace” or “Insha Allah” (God Willing), when they felt like things were out of their control, I mentally rolled my eyes.
As described in “A Year of Ephiphanies”, I came to realize that my life is not in my control. Earlier this year, at the nadir of my woes, a woman who neither was a member of my family nor owed me anything came to my rescue. I still can’t explain it. This woman is now my “Auntie”.
Furthermore, over the course of the year, occasionally I have found myself unprepared or despairing. Quite unexpectedly, strangers emerged to share some of their stew and offer comfort. Now, I’m the one saying “By God’s grace” when there isn’t much else to say.
I am also learning to give without expecting anything in return. I stress that I’m learning to do that.
In the House of Self-Reliance, we do not wait around for God to bequeath gifts. If I help you, I do not regard myself as one of God’s vessels answering your prayers. I expect you to acknowledge that I may be extending myself to help you.
For instance, if I lend you a substantial sum, then not only do I expect you to a) pay me back, but b) recognize that I bailed you out of your situation which should warrant a certain amount of c) loyalty. Sure, I have several hundred Facebook friends. How many would step up if I needed $20,000 in 7 days? How many would stick their necks out and bail me out of jail? (Cue the chirping crickets.)
What’s worse, if you have yet to repay the debt, then you should try to be your “best self”. You should be trying to give back — not just to me — in recognition that you also have received. Unless I do something atrocious, how can you be mad at me?
Obviously, I haven’t figured out how to balance giving with giving freely.
In the meantime, since I cannot repay my new Auntie with money, I honor her by trying to be a better person. I’m trying to give without expectation of anything; I’m trying to diminish the importance of material possessions; I’m trying to be more forgiving and patient. It’s not easy.