When at the Bottom of the Barrel
By Iris Richards
The other morning I had read a passage from Acts, where Paul, in his farewell speech to the church of Ephesus, talked about living life generously and working hard to make sure to always have something to give to the poor, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (See Acts 20:32–35) Little did I know that I was going to be tested on those very principles a few hours later.
My friend and I enjoyed a warm spring afternoon on the balcony, sipping a cold fruit juice. We had been chatting about the week’s accomplishments and were discussing plans for the month ahead. Before taking her leave, my friend, who is a social worker in a poor neighborhood, brought up an urgent situation which she had recently encountered.
“Mercy has been an orphan most of her life, and now sadly at the young age of 25 has been diagnosed with cancer. She has been making ends meet by washing laundry for people, and most months she isn’t even reaching a minimum wage. With lack of funding for health insurance, she is now left stranded and has to finance the urgently needed treatment herself. She has been appealing to well-wishers, but she is still short of money for medication.”
With an expectant look in her eyes, my friend paused and there was a moment of silence between us. I felt convicted about helping out, but it was the end of the month and there were bills to pay. I was glad when her phone rang and she got busy with the caller. This gave me a moment to sort out the conflict that was rapidly unfolding inside me.
“Why now,” I thought to myself.
As I further contemplated, my mind punched through: “Haven’t we reached our maximum of giving this month? And after meeting the bills, we had planned to finally start saving for some of our large family’s needs.”
My conscience then came in: “Hasn’t God supplied each time you went beyond your limits to give to someone in need?”
My mind: “That’s true, but we have just committed to start working on a savings plan.”
My conscience: “Just the other day, you lectured a colleague about the wonders of the cycle of giving and how the vacuum created through it will surely be filled.”
My mind: “I remember that, but it was meant to encourage someone who has a hard time giving.”
My conscience popped up again: “Why not think of the principles Jesus taught, to ‘give to him who asks of you’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you.’” (Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:30–31)
My mind: “That’s right, but I urgently need to find a balance between giving and saving.”
My conscience was not giving up: “Freely you have received, freely give, and if you give a cup of water to the thirsty, you won’t lose your reward.” (Matthew 10:8, 42)
My mind retorted: “It’s not a cup of water! We are talking about cash, which I’m running short of at the moment.”
My conscience: “Think of another principle Jesus taught: ‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Mathew 25:40)
Sighing deeply, I looked up and again met my friend’s expectant eyes.
“Sure, I can help. After all, there is still time before the bills are due,” I tried to console myself.
My conscience had won, and with an unexpected feeling of peace I dug into my financial reserve and gave what was needed, trusting that God would indeed fill the vacuum which I had just created.
I had almost forgotten this incident when I bumped into an old acquaintance while out shopping a couple of days later. Before parting, he reached into his bag and gave me a sealed envelope and said, “God put it on my heart to give this to you after all you’ve done for me. I am sure that a generous person like you will find good use for it.”
When I arrived home, I found a generous amount of money in the envelope, which made this month’s cycle of giving, with its inevitable receiving, a complete one. And there was even enough to put inside my “savings kitty.”
Thinking further about this metaphor, I realized that when the cycle starts with giving and ends with giving, to make it work, it then begins with receiving, and like a wheel it goes on and on, well-rounded and complete.
When we create a vacuum through sharing and giving, it draws not only financial blessing into it but also happiness and a feeling of accomplishment. It fosters friendships and camaraderie. It protects one from the sickness of hoarding and teaches the art of letting go, not only of material things, but of grudges and bitterness as well, which in turn heals the heart and puts the mind at ease.
Come to think of it, keeping the cycle of giving alive has even come to our aid during economic hardships, sometimes through unexpected gifts, a helpful neighbor, a friend reaching out, or by a sheer miracle of God’s never-ending supply. And even though I’ve found myself at the bottom of the barrel at times, I can safely say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
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