There’s nothing like acts of generosity that cost you almost nothing to get you feeling good about yourself this Christmas.
One day I came home to find a Christmas hamper delivered at our door. I immediately fell to the ground and wept, grateful that some anonymous soul had thought to love us enough—even from a distance—to deliver tinned ham and out of date shortbread to our family.
Once I had recovered from my outburst of appreciation, I lugged the hamper inside and began to unpack the contents into the cupboard. (Imagine me in my spotless kitchen with my hair on point if you will.)
It’s no surprise that during the said-unpacking of no brand groceries, there was a lively dialogue happening in my head: “Why does my chest hurt? Why does this anonymous hamper feel like an act of cowardice and unfriendliness? Why am I such an ungrateful cow?”
Because we had just returned from India having sold our whole lives in Australia, a few groceries were helpful to be sure. And someone had obviously observed our colossal heartache and failure and thought we needed to be . . . blessed.
They were well-meaning, no doubt. But what I really needed was someone to sit with me, to ask me if I was ok, to cry with me, to pray with me. Someone to know me.
Besides, anyone who knows me would not have included Diet Coke in the hamper.
I wondered, do we really care what people want or need? Or do we care about feeling good about our generosity?
The question, though, took me immediately to the time I gave leftover pizza to a woman living on the streets of Kolkata, India, with her newborn baby.
My family had filled our stomachs to overflowing at a pizza restaurant, but there were a few slices left. I don’t want to boast, but we decided we could give the extra slices we had (once we had had far more than we needed) to someone in need. We were new to help and trying to figure out how best to navigate our Christian service with this new place. This was the least we could do.
So we carried our pizza in a box all the way home because we knew there was a woman who lived in the gutter with her family just outside our house.
We found her, a baby swaddled in a dirty rag and children playing in the gutter. Warmly, we presented her with three slices of leftover pizza. She accepted. And I admit, it felt good. Surely, this was what Jesus would do.
She sat there with a box made out of the same cardboard as her home and fed pizza to her children. But when I smiled triumphantly and turned my back to escort my family into our home, I couldn’t help but wonder how she felt.
I had decided to be ‘generous’ on my own terms. I had decided what she needed. And it hadn’t cost me anything.
I didn’t want to know her, even though she lived so near to us.
Now as I think of it, giving leftover pizza feels like an act of selfishness, hurtful even.
And as I imagine that woman’s face now, I wish, more than anything, that I had taken the time to sit with her in the gutter, to ask if she was okay, to cry with her, to pray with her. I wish I had done anything but patronise her.
Sometimes our helping hurts.
And I can’t help thinking if it’s time to stop believing that giving “things” is the answer. Rather than feeling good about our generosity, I believe God wants us to know each other, sit with one another and check in on each other, no matter where we live.
Because when we do, I think we’ll also get a glimpse of what it means to know God better.