A few years ago I was gathering canned goods for a local food bank. On tiptoe, I sifted through a deep cabinet filled with at least thirty cans, moving aside the ones I replaced regularly – diced tomatoes, black beans – to look for treasures in the back; stuff I didn’t really like, stuff that had been sitting around for a while. A few cans of minestrone soup were in the running, and the Western Family green beans that came from godknowswhere topped the small little pile.
After about a minute of rummaging I looked down at the counter – three castoff cans – and then back up at my cupboard, which was teeming with canned jars of pickles and jam from back home, boxes of macaroni ‘n cheese, pasta, soups, vegetables, even chocolate. And then I looked down at the minestrone soup and decided that I might need it for one of those days when I was too busy to cook and just needed something fast (which is silly, because I don’t even like minestrone soup). Two lonely cans sat ready to be donated.
This is not one isolated incident for me, but a phenomenon. I am like most people: when I give, my bags are stuffed with cast-offs, and there is plenty left in the cupboard or on the shelf. Why is it so hard for me to give with abandon? I want to be able to give generously and graciously, but it does not come naturally.
It is very hard – but somehow liberating – to take the words of Jesus seriously. Losing my life today may be foregoing a coffee so I can buy one for the Real Change vendor, or talking a friend through a difficult time even though I really need to that extra half hour of sleep. Because this is my life: child-rearing, grocery shopping, cooking, writing, being a wife and a friend. If I treat the people who come into my path as worthy only of cast-offs or a curt nod, I am saying something about my belief in humanity and in Jesus.
And so, when I feel the impulse to buy a homeless woman a pair of gloves on a cold day – and actually go through with it – or spend a few extra minutes getting to know the man who sits in the park even though my son is squirming and ready for a nap, I am learning to trust that that act of kindness may feel better, and actually be better for all of us, than the caffeine hit or the vague sense of safety I feel when I look at another can of minestrone soup that I’ll never get around to eating anyway.