Tis the season to be generous. to give gifts to friends, donate goods to needy families, and write checks for worthy causes. Imagine my dismay when our then 16-year-old son showed me I wasn't nearly as ho-ho-happy about giving as I claimed to be.
My lesson in humility began one Tuesday afternoon. Our son, Matt, sat perched on the steps of a downtown office building waiting for his father to pick him up after his first driver training class. A man in shabby clothes ambled along, asking for money, supposedly to pay for having a tire changed at a nearby garage.
When Matt told me this story later, I felt my skin grow hot. Yeah, right … he needed money for a tire. More like for drugs. Or a cheap bottle of wine.
"The man said he needed $17," Matt explained. "So I gave him $10."
"Ten dollars?!" I fumed. How dare this panhandler talk my son out of his hard-earned money? "Honey, why would you do such a thing?"
"Because it felt good to help somebody, Mom."
Ouch. Still, I felt Matt didn't understand the situation, didn't get the Big Picture about how the world worked. "A dollar would have been plenty, Matt. Just to show him you cared."
Just to get rid of him. That's what I meant, even if I didn't say it.
Matt's brow drew into a knot. "But wouldn't ten dollars show him I cared even more?"
Ouch again. Adult logic goes by the wayside when faced with a teenager determined to do the right thing.
The Bible teaches, "If a man's gift is … contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously" (). Then why wasn't I congratulating my son for being generous instead of chastising him for being taken advantage of by a stranger on the street?
Before I could sort out my feelings, Matt confessed, "He asked me if I could spare any more, so I gave him another three dollars."
"What?!" I threw my arms in the air, exasperated. "Son, you don't have to keep giving people money just because they ask for it! What that man did amounts to polite robbery."
"But he didn't rob me, Mom. I gave it willingly," Matt reminded me. "And it was my money. I just wanted to be kind."
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Matt had given generously. And I called him gullible. Matt had given joyfully. And I robbed his joy.
He had done precisely as he'd been taught—not by me, obviously, but by Jesus: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" ().
Matt wasn't at all reluctant. But I was. He said yes to this man without feeling coerced. I would have said no and blamed the man for being pushy. My son was cheerful. I was infuriated.
Here's the saddest truth of all: I gladly write a check each December to a Christian mission for the homeless not far from the very spot where Matt did his kind deed. Sure, I'm willing to help the needy. But only if I control the amount and how it's spent. And only if I can drop my money in the mail, not press it into a grimy hand.
It's embarrassing when your children teach you by example how to be more Christlike. The only thing worse is refusing to be taught. Teach me, Lord. And forgive me when I stumble.
If you're like my son—a cheerful giver—then may this season give you many opportunities to exercise your spiritual gift.
But if you're like me—a conditional giver—then may the Lord nudge your conscience, as he has mine, and show you what "cheerful giving" really means: to give without judgment. To give without hesitation. To give from the heart.
Liz Curtis Higgs, author of more than 20 books, including The Girl's Still Got It (WaterBrook Press), lives with her husband in Kentucky.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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