As I respond to the idea of Giving at Christmas over at Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience, I find myself humbled by her family's practice of Christmas and humbled by our own circumstances as well.
You see, we were (and still are) a family of givers. Keith used to take a family in reduced circumstances to Costco every couple of weeks to purchase groceries and other necessities. He's served many widows and single women by doing handyman work as needed and not accepting money. We've slipped generous gift cards into the Christmas cards of missionary families. And we never really thought about it--we did it with joy. I wrote out checks at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to the local homeless shelter.
And, I confess, we did it (or at least I did it) with a little pride.
I was happy to share God's blessings with others. But I was also a little proud that we had enough to share.
I didn't realize the pride that had winnowed its way into my heart...until our circumstances changed.
Three years ago our finances altered drastically. Keith had always worked in the same office with his dad, a civil engineer. Designing and drafting custom homes has been his work for 25 years, and he is gooooood at it. Excellent at it. Recommendations over the years spread by word of mouth, and there was always work to do, sometimes so much that Keith had to turn smaller job away.
But when the recession hit, the housing market was rocked to its core, and it rocked us with it.
Suddenly we were adrift with no income. Keith has patched together a handyman business which waxes and wanes over the months, but it's been hard. Money has been tight...so very tight.
My medical bills over the past years were astronomical. We had managed to keep paying the balances, but when the recession hit, we were stuck with no way to pay for $1000 a month for medications plus other medical-related bills. We made arrangements with creditors and with his dad's help, we paid almost all of them off.
There were (and sometimes still are) weeks when we couldn't buy groceries and when the electric bill rolls into the next month. We stopped purchasing propane and now heat our home with free wood that Keith finds on Craig's List and hauls up the mountain.
But the hardest part was accepting the blessings of others.
It's a humbling thing to receive help. It's undoubtedly a blessing--a HUGE blessing--to receive a gift card to Albertson's for groceries, to WalMart for clothes for the kids. And I've always been thankful...so thankful. Those gift cards always arrived at just the right time, so perfectly at the right time that I saw the hand of God in it: the week we had no money for groceries was the week I won the monthly Trader Joe's drawing for bringing in my own bags. The $25 gift card award allowed me to buy the special gluten-free breads and pastas our kids needed. Another week when we had no meat in the freezer, a neighbor gave us a round roast that she "didn't want"--which I'm sure she purchased for us. We saved the turkey from the Thanksgiving Box given by our church "for a rainy day" and ate like kings even though the rest of the pantry was nearly bare.
But underneath the thankfulness and the joy of provision, the happiness in seeing our kids fed, lies that nearly-invisible streak of pride. The wish that we could help people, too. The wish that our circumstances were different and we could be the givers rather than the receivers. The "zing" of pride that darkens the joy just a little--not much--but it's there. I can feel it.
I hear the proverb again and again: "It's more blessed to give than receive." It's true. So true. Sometimes it's hard to receive. It's difficult to smile and say "thank you" at times.
So I confess it here to you. I am proud. But I am not so proud as to refuse what the Lord gives us through His people. Our circumstances have alerted me to much sin in my life, and among those previously-hidden sins is the sin of pride, the sin of wanting to be able to "do it on my own." It's not the sin of covetousness...YET. But it could grow that way if not curbed now.
I pray from the Confessions of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Good Lord, forgive me.
I ask for God's grace to receive without pride. I ask for His grace to give without stinting, without letting one hand know what the other is doing. I ask...to be more Him, in both giving and especially, especially in receiving.
In His grace,