“There lies before us a beautiful possible life – one that shall have a passion for giving that shall be poured forth to God – spent out for man. . .” Parables of the Cross
Giving. Gifts – given and received – are fundamental to any given culture, often accompanied by certain rules of etiquette, written or spoken. Still, apart from varied customs of individual societies, giving is a natural expression of appreciation on a surface level or of loving at its most profound. A hostess gift, for example, indicates gratitude for the hospitality anticipated, a small wrapped present a token of appreciation of a friendship. Lovers, spurred by infatuation, out-do each other in finding “just the right gift” to embody the essence of their love.
Lilias’s life in Algeria was marked by giving that was motivated by her love for the Arab people. It was demonstrated, initially, in tiny tokens: bon bons for the children on the streets, pin cushions for mothers cloistered in the Casbah – indicating caring that opened both hearts and doors. This love would continue to be demonstrated by practical services: simple first aid, instruction in reading and national handcrafts and, as relationships developed, with increasing hospitality, bringing children and entire families into the embrace of their homes. Underlying her giving was her passion to demonstrate through her love, the light and life and love of Jesus.
In time, however, she was faced with a dilemma: How could she give without the recipients becoming dependent on the gifts – and the givers? The answer, she concluded, was to find ways to enable them to give to others. Simply stated: giving strengthens the giver. And so she was ever devising ways to make that possible.
Early on, she provided sewing classes for the women to make haiks (long pieces of cloth worn as outer garments) for the poor of Central Africa; encouraged the men to take up an offering for the needy of Kabyle and then to deliver it in person – an uncommon gesture between Arab and Kabyle. She took Arab women with her to visit the needy and partnered Algerian men with French colporteurs (book sellers) on their journeys and employed older boys to assist in the classes for the younger. Even the young children were encouraged to support the children at Dohnavur, at Amy Carmichael’s orphanage in India, with their prayers and coin offerings.
In the later years, she continued to strive to find the balance between giving and receiving, important to the health of the souls of young Christians and a crucial corrective to any who might be attracted solely to the material benefits of such an association. She observed, to her consternation, individuals who gloried in discussions of spiritual matters but balked at responsibilities that accompanied their living arrangements.
Granted, hers was a giving fraught with challenges unique to a radical caring ministry – but is it any different today? Ministries continue to struggle with the balance of giving and receiving. Recently, the director of a city-wide faith-based Care Center shared with us his concern about this balance. Year after year, the Care Center provided a lavish Christmas ministry to local families, providing multiple wrapped presents for each member of each family, selected by a family member from the generously stocked gift store. Our friend became concerned by the same dilemma that Lilias faced and came to the same conclusion: the need to balance receiving with giving. Solution: to provide opportunities for the recipients to help in “giving” through volunteer service hours or other giving incentives.
Responsible giving tests all of us whether in the many impersonal appeals for our money or, more personally, in our own communities or even families. What parent hasn’t at some time witnessed the disappointment of a child, surrounded by opened gifts and torn wrapping paper, querying: “Is that all?” Or parents (or grandparents) of adult children (or grandchildren) who have gladly received without expressed recognition or seeming appreciation of that fact? How long – or how much – do we keep on giving?
Years ago a story was told to me by a then elderly woman – widow of the president of a local bank – which still speaks to my heart. For many years, during the depression, her home was a magnet for tramps who hopped off trains from the nearby railroad tracks. Each hungry traveler, who knocked at her door, was given a sandwich, piece of fruit, and cookies accompanied by a tall glass of iced tea which she placed on a cloth-covered table on the shaded porch of her Florida home. One day her daughter was jump-roping on the grass between the house and the tracks and stumbled over and broke a string on the ground. From that day forward there were no more visitors. She had broken the cord that led from the tracks and marked their house as an “easy” touch for food. When asked, upon reporting this incident, if she didn’t feel “taken” she answered: “What they did was between them and God. And what I did was between me and God. I have no regrets.”
Yes, of course, we need to be responsible in our giving, whether to a larger cause or to people up close and personal. But, at the end of the day, the passion for giving, from a heart of love, is the source of great joy – regardless of the response. What we give, in the name of Christ, is received as such by the Great Giver of our Souls.
Painting: 1900 Tolga Travel Journal