1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:1-4 NIV
Could we just sort of erase those verses from the Bible, Lord? They make me a little uncomfortable. No, I don’t typically drop my check in the offering with a trumpet fanfare; but I’m not quite sure I’ve got the gist of not letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing. My left hand is really nosy. It WANTS to know.
For those of you who think I’m filled with humility all the time…prepare to have your illusion shattered. I have a little problem in the area of giving. I’m just quite frankly not all that humble about it. So those verses are a little bit lot convicting.
It started out innocently enough. Every year tax season would roll around, and every year I’d be sitting there doing the returns of the fabulously and mildly fabulously wealthy individuals of my city and as I’d near the donation information I’d start to get excited. Do they give? How much do they give? Wow, that’s not much…YES! I gave more than fabulously wealthy person x this year! No, I wasn’t announcing it, and I truly don’t do my giving to ‘beat out’ the other people. But I have this nagging suspicion that God’s not too happy with the sort of attitude that compares gifts. Sooner or later I’m going to fall short, and if my reward is the feeling of superiority from having given more than someone else, I think that God is saying, “OK, that’s your reward.”
Today was the annual fundraising sale in our area for our denomination’s relief, development and peace agency. (Here’s a link to MCC if you want to read more about them.) The biggest draw is the quilt and woodworking auction; it’s a good thing I don’t quilt because my competitive spirit would REALLY kick into overdrive then. But for the past two years they have had a silent auction of theme baskets and my mother-in-law and I come up with one together. Just for the record, I really have fun doing this. I don’t think that Jesus was saying we always have to give with a straight face and not get any joy out of it; I truly do like thinking up an interesting theme that would appeal enough to sell but still be subtly unique and then picking out stuff to fill the basket with. I just get a little, shall we say, overinterested in how many people are bidding on it and how that compares to other baskets. (Note: although a theme of simple steps to going green is unique and my basket was lovely, how am I supposed to compete with a basket filled with about fifty different chocolate items? Oh yeah, it isn’t a competition…)
I realized I had a problem the first night when I checked out all the baskets and felt that momentary flare of pride that our basket had the most bids so far. And the next day, when I kept detouring past the table just to see if we had gotten more bids. After realizing I was being just a tad competitive, I did stop comparing the bids of other baskets. But clearly I’m going to have to work on this area, learning to rejoice in the giving without comparing my gift to others.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, I think. We compare the amount of time we spend serving, we compare the quality of our gifts to others. In venues like that it’s easy to be disappointed if our gift doesn’t sell, or doesn’t bring the amount that we thought it was worth. But God looks at the heart. He looks at the hours someone toils over making a beautiful quilt just to give it away. I think he gives us joy in the giving when we do it solely out of love, and check our competitive spirits at the door.
I don’t know how long it will take for me to train my left hand to stop being so nosy. Once I stopped doing taxes and stopped comparing myself to those wealthier than me I realized that there are people with less than I have whose giving would put me to shame. So I’m going to work at the whole humility in giving thing this year. And hopefully next year, when the sale rolls around again, I’ll be able to simply rejoice that my gift is going to help those in need instead of comparing it to others.