“You will always have the poor among you.” [Jesus] John 12:8a
For as long as I can remember I have known I am one of the most privileged people on the planet. Wanting somehow to make up for the advantages I enjoyed, I eventually crossed the line between desire to help the less fortunate and having to give it all away in order to feel good about myself. I had unwittingly bought into a subtle form of “salvation by works.”
Christmastime, especially, became a time of stress, guilt, and eventually sickness. I can remember at least four Christmases in a row being too sick and exhausted to enjoy the holiday.
One year on December 23, I had a rare quiet time after everyone else had gone to bed. A nearby stack of unanswered mail silently pleaded for more donations. Thousands of African children were orphaned by an A.I.D.S. epidemic. People were starving, in danger of freezing to death, left homeless by hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods. Veterans in hospitals wondered if anyone cared. Researchers were trying desperately to eradicate horrendous diseases. Women and children were being trafficked, and corrupt leaders were seizing power, threatening to make everything worse than it already was. Most importantly, millions were still without any knowledge of the gospel and in danger of leaving this world into a Christ-less eternity. I was a giver, but it seemed whenever I sent a check, ten more pleas for donations would arrive, hence the accusing stack of paper, robbing me of the peace of God.
Overwhelmed and on the verge of tears, I thought, I’m sorry, Lord, I just can’t deal with all this… Thank God He led me to get out my Bible and just start reading His Word.
I was in the 16th chapter of the gospel of Luke. I read about “the rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” and thought, Great, now You‘re going to make me feel more guilty? I started to cry.
Then the Still, Small voice made Himself heard: Just READ.
“At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. … The time came when the beggar died and the angels came and carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16: 20-23)
Identifying with the rich man, I prayed, Lord, I’m sorry! I haven’t given enough … The thought of so many sins of omission tormented me worse than ever.
But Still, Small Voice was persistent. Read it again.
“At his gate was laid a beggar …”
I sensed Still Small Voice asking, Was the rich man condemned for not feeding every hungry person in the world?
No… but …
“At his gate was laid a beggar.” He was expected to help the person I placed in his path. You don’t have to save the whole world, little lamb. Just look around you.
Relief flooded my soul, as if I were discovering for the first time that we are saved by grace, not by works. (“DUH.”)
So, I asked myself, who is in my path? Immediately a local family came to mind. My dear friend, “Susie” had died a little over a year before, leaving a husband and seven children. I had been to their house the Christmas before to bring them cookies and had noticed that sadly no decorations were up, no tree, and no visible gifts. The youngest child, who could barely see over the countertop, was staring wide-eyed at the plate of cookies I had set down as I talked to the weary father.
I wanted to do more for them this year than a gift that would be gone in minutes. I considered what I could give them that they could enjoy together, and maybe make some lasting memories. I asked myself what kinds of things I remembered enjoying most as a child. Personally I had always loved being creative…
I went to the attic and found a box that was big enough, mentally adding a dozen or more things to my shopping list for the next day.
Christmas Eve I returned home with a large box of crayons, felt markers (washable!), water colors, colored pencils, sketch paper, tracing paper, unlined index cards, glue, scissors, Scotch tape, modeling clay, and two blank books. Since opening gifts is half the fun, I gift wrapped each one with a little note, such as “Make your own postcards!” on the package of index cards. In the blank books I wrote notes to the two teenaged daughters, encouraging them to write about the emotions and experiences that were impacting their lives. I placed all the wrapped gifts in the big box, wrapped it, and –
Voila! The Creativity Box!
But later, as I was finishing preparations in the early Christmas morning hours, another voice spoke to my heart, which I now realize was the voice of the accuser, the enemy of my soul:
What kind of cheap present is that to be giving a grieving family? A bunch of paper and junk from Walmart… !
In my insecurity I entertained the fleeting thought that maybe it was best to forget the whole thing. But then I thought, Well, I’ve done it, I may as well take it to them… and went to sleep for a few hours.
After Christmas brunch and opening gifts with my family, I went to Susie’s family’s house, accompanied by my father, who always loved surprising people.
When the kids saw the box, their eyes got big, and I thought, I hope they aren’t disappointed. I explained that this was a “Creativity Box.”
Before their Dad had even come into the room, the little guys were already tearing into the box and taking out the gifts.
“Look, Dad!” one of them cried. “It’s a Creativity Box!” As the wrapping paper flew off each little piece, squeals of joy were heard that made one wonder what sort of costly treasures they were discovering. I suppressed a giggle as I heard things like “Look, Dad! We can make our own post cards!!!” and saw one little guy retreat to a corner and start molding the clay into something fantastic. The teenaged girls quietly read the notes in their blank books and smiled at me knowingly.
After a brief visit Dad and I left the happy kids, bursting with creativity, enjoying their Savior’s birthday.
The Still Small Voice was right. I can’t save the whole world, but there will always be a life within reach that I can impact, when I let myself be inspired by the true Source of all giving and all creativity.