This is my favorite time of year. Truly, I love everything about it — the music, the decorations, the sappy Hallmark movies, the parties, the Christmas pageants, Advent devotionals and calendars, even that
stupid adorable elf on the shelf. But perhaps what I love most about Christmas is giving gifts.
I love being able to buy or make something that a dear friend or family member has been dreaming of, or perhaps something that will make their life easier, or just bring a smile to their face. I start planning what to get each person on my list two months in advance and get so excited thinking about their reaction when they finally open it on Christmas.
I tell you, with no amount of pride or ego, that I’ve always considered myself a pretty generous person. But this year I’ve been doing some soul searching, and asking myself “what does it mean to give as a follower of Jesus?”
Jesus had some very clear words for us about the relationship between giving and salvation. In fact, in three out of the four gospels this story is told:
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:17, 21-24)
To be honest, I have never given Jesus’s warning much thought because I never considered myself rich. But recently, my definition of “rich” has been challenged. While I am not a millionaire, the reality is that based on worldwide income averages, my family ranks in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest families. In fact, anyone with a household income of $32,400 or more is in this top 1 percent. ¹
I know that number might seem shocking, especially if you’re living in the United States. But even if I look at only U.S. averages, my family still sits somewhere in the top 15 percent.² And if I take a really honest look, we live a comfortable life.
No, I don’t have a closet full of designer clothes, and handbags. Our house is modest, our cars were bought used, and our furniture is cheap. I love consignment sales and clearance racks, and rarely pay full price for an item. But, if my kids need a new pair of tennis shoes, we can buy them. We go out to eat several times per week. We take a family vacation every year. You get the point.
Our basic needs are provided for and we have plenty of ‘extras’, as well. So does that make us rich? More importantly, do my belongings get in the way of my relationship with God? And, would I be willing to sell everything I have to follow Jesus, like He asked the man in Mark 10?
These are questions I’ve started asking myself lately. Maybe because it’s the season of giving. Or maybe it’s because our Bible study group has been doing the “7 Experiment” study by Jen Hatmaker. Whatever the reason, I think the Lord has been calling me into self-examination on this front for some time, challenging my definition of rich and what my family truly needs to live as followers of Him.
And as He often does, the Lord has shown me His way through some surprising and humbling encounters.
I want to tell you the story of a little 10 year old boy. He is a saver. He likes to put away his allowance and any money received for birthdays and hang on to it. He thinks carefully before spending money on anything, considering the cost of the item, how much he will have left, and whether it’s something he really, really wants (I can’t use the word needs because his parents provide for all of his needs). Recently this little boy counted up all his savings and discovered he had about $75.
He thought about all of the ways he might spend this money. He really wanted a fancy new Lego set. He also thought about saving more so he could buy an iPod touch, like his older sister has. But then he thought some more and he went to his mom and said, “I’d like to give my money to the church.”
His mom was quite surprised by his declaration and asked him why. He said, “well because I think the church can use this money to help people who need it.” So his mother explained the different ways the money that they put in the offering basket was used, including the various outreach ministries their church did, so he understood exactly where his money would be going. Then she suggested he pray about it overnight before making a final decision.
First thing the next morning the little boy told his mom that he had prayed and he was sure he wanted to give all of his money to the church. That Sunday when the offering basket was passed a little hand placed $75 worth of crumpled bills and change into it.
Honestly, I can’t even type this story without sobbing like a little baby. I am humbled by the generosity of this 10 year old boy. And I ask myself, would I be brave enough to pray to God and ask Him if I should give away every cent I owned? And if His answer was yes, would I then carry through with it and drop it in the offering basket with a smile like this boy did?
The raw, ugly, honest answer is I don’t think I could. But I sure hope one day I can be like that little boy.
We’re making changes in our house to get there. We’re cutting back on our dependency of “stuff”. We’re paying off debt that holds much of our money hostage. We’re coming together as a family to find opportunities to give more — both financially and of our time — and not just at a comfortable level, but in a “this is hard and kind of uncomfortable” way:
If we give up eating out every week, what can we use that money for?
If we buy fewer Christmas gifts, can we afford more items for the angel tree children?
When we receive our paychecks, bonuses, allowance, birthday money, etc. are we praying for God to show us how to use the money before spending it?
Before buying that new sweater, DVD, electronic gadget, lip gloss, etc. are we stopping to ask “do I really need this? Is there a better way I can spend this money?”
It’s a process. We still have a long way to go.
But I will tell you that what I’ve seen thus far is there is a certain freedom that comes with letting go. Letting go of things we don’t need. Letting go of control of the spending decisions. Letting go of debt. And letting go of our dependency and value of earthly things.
I hope one day I can be as willing as that little boy to give over everything I have to God and live my life like every day was the season of giving.