Book review: Giving It All Away…and Getting It All Back Again – The Way of Living Generously

Book cover for Giving It All Away...and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously by David Green

What do you do when your mother gives you a book recommendation? You read it, of course.

I don’t get a lot of book recommendations from my mom. One of the last ones that I remember getting was Boys in the Boat, which I enjoyed. So when I get a recommendation from her, I take it seriously.

The most recent recommendation I got was for Giving It All Away…and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously by David Green. If you don’t know who David Green, don’t be ashamed. I didn’t know who he was either until I started reading the book.

David Green, it turns out, is the founder of Hobby Lobby. He started the company out of his house in 1970 and has grown it to over 850 stores across the country. As part of building a successful company, the concept of giving has been an integral part of Green’s business from its inception. It’s a concept that he learned from his parents who gave generously of their time, efforts, and money to help the people of the churches which Green’s father was a pastor of.

While Green was not called to follow in his father’s footsteps as a pastor, he has discovered a more valuable mission. In Giving It All Away, Green lays out his plan to provide a lasting legacy to the next generation. Given the success of Hobby Lobby, you would think that Green’s legacy would consist primarily of monetary gifts. Green, however, sees it differently. As he says, a true legacy is made of more than money:

A legacy of true value is a legacy made of more than money. It’s a legacy conceived in wisdom, nurtured by principle, and sustained by character. If we pass only money to the next generation, we lay a crushing load upon them. The inheritance of greater value is the sum of how we live, what we believe, and the content of the dreams that carry us to success. This is what the next generation needs most from us, and what the next generation must prepare to hand off as well.

In addition to his view on legacy, Green relies on another important principle. He recognizes that everything is God’s, including the wealth he has accumulated. Instead of seeing his fortune as something he owns, he views himself as a steward of the resources that God has provided him. This principle guides his actions and enables him to give freely and wisely. Through this giving, or by giving it all away as the title suggests, Green shows how he has gotten it all back, and more. Not all of it has returned in a monetary fashion mind you. Just as valuable, Green has seen people helped, dreams achieved, and lives changed through his generosity. Most of all, he has seen his principles reflected in the generations which will succeed him. In other words, he has left a legacy that is not based on money but based on principles.

Giving It All Away is well written and an easy book to read, but it will challenge you spiritually. I liken it to Marianne Wilson’s Return to Love or Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Green will cause you to pause and reflect on the legacy you are building for the generations that will follow us. Are you building a legacy that is based on the accumulation of money and material possessions, or are you building a more lasting legacy that is based on family stories we have to recount, the values those stories teach, and the dreams and work that made something of value that is greater and more lasting than money? Are you being a faithful steward and using the resources that you have been given, which do not have to be purely financial in nature? Are you practicing generosity, helping others, and passing on lasting values to future generations?

What makes Giving It All Away particularly challenging is that Green is right. He makes valid points. More than that, to live the philosophy Green espouses takes courage and a commitment to faith. It made me realize that I still have a lot of room to learn, grow, and develop if I want to be a better example to those around me and to leave a more valuable and lasting legacy to the generations that follow. It’s a challenge that I accept.