A few weeks ago, my daughter got a birthday party invitation. The birthday girls (twins) didn’t ask for gifts; instead, they requested that we consider making a small donation to help the people of Haiti. Considering that the girls are six or seven, this seemed generous and unselfish. I was relieved; I’d rather help the needy than buy a gift that will be tossed aside five seconds after it’s opened. The Haitians need food and water far more than a middle class American child needs one more toy.
Even as I felt relief, I realized how painless it is for me to give money to charity. I was reminded of a story in the Gospels, where Jesus watched people give donations to the temple. A rich man tossed in a bagful of coins. A poor widow put in two small coins. Then Jesus told his disciples,
“This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
If I’m honest, I’m more like the rich man than the widow. I don’t think I’ve ever given sacrificially: at least, not to the point where it was a sacrifice, to the point where it hurt to lay that money down, knowing—like the widow—that I actually needed it, but knowing that it would hurt my soul more to not lay it down.
Sacrifice. Do I understand what that means?
A few years ago, we received a plea for money from a charity we support. Now to fully appreciate this story, you have to understand this: at that time, I went out for lunch every single day of the week. Seriously. I never ate lunch at home. It wasn’t fancy-shmancy places (mostly fast food) but it was still between five to seven bucks a day. Multiply this by five work days, and you can see how much I spent on chicken tacos, personal-sized pizzas and bagel sandwiches. (That total doesn’t include the Friday date night meal and dessert, Saturday “let’s get something quick with the kids” lunch, or the after-church on Sunday restaurant meal.)
So I read the letter, felt guilty because I wasted so much money on food that (let’s face it) wasn’t always great, and decided in a passionate fit of sacrifice that I would eat lunch at home (gasp!) for an entire week (gasp!) and send the money to the rescue mission so they could feed the poor and needy. Wow. Aren’t I a martyr?
Actually, it wasn’t terribly difficult. I ate Lean Cuisine meals in the comfort of my own home. Not exactly martyrdom (though you might think you were dying of food poisoning if that black plastic tray of processed food hadn’t been nuked long enough).
So . . . do I really understand what sacrifice means?
Recently, my church gathered items to send to Haiti: clothes, towels, food, sheets, and just about anything else you could fit on a boat and ship down there. I had been pitching a fit about our overcrowded, unorganized closets in our house; there were so many things to get rid of that it was overwhelming. I saw the sheet of paper with “Donations for Haiti” types across the top, thought about my overflowing linen closet, and had an “ah-ha” moment.
I called to my husband, “Honey, didn’t you say you would help me clean our closet?”
(You should feel sorry for him at this point!)
Several hours later, our closets were organized. Not just our bedroom closet, either. The linen closet, the small hallway closet, the big hallway closet, the under-the-bed storage area and our study were clean, too. Dust bunnies died. Shoes were thrown away. Six plastic bags of sheets, etc., sat in the living room waiting to be dropped off at our church.
It didn’t hurt me. (I didn’t need multiple baby washcloths, towels or sheets in an odd size.)
It didn’t overjoy me. (I was more thrilled about the clean closets than helping the Haitians.)
It was simply a relief. I had a clean closet and a clean conscience: I could honestly say I had helped the needy.
This rich girl tossed a few mites into the collection plate, but only after making sure her coffers were full and locked up in a bank that was insured by the FDIC.
So . . . do I know what sacrifice means? Do you?