I’m just thinking out loud here and I have a splitting headache, but if I were still a social worker, I would teach my clients how to receive.
Julian’s sleeping bag.
I invited a group of young adults to four days at a posh retreat center in Traverse City. All expenses paid. It cost them nothing but their stories.
One of the invitees was a young man my daughter met when she worked at Wildwood Ranch. Wildwood Ranch is run by Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. It is a camp for inner city Detroit kids, located 50 miles north and west of the city. The young man, who was doing a two year, year-round internship there, was granted a furlough in order to join us.
As we were packing up to go home, I noticed that the gear he threw into the trunk of my friends’ car was light.
“Julian, where’s your sleeping bag?”
“I threw it away.”
“It’s in the dumpster.”
“Wasn’t that a brand new sleeping bag?”
“It’s okay. I got it from the camp. It was donated.”
“Go get it.”
“It’s okay, it was donated,” he repeated.
“Yes, it was donated, and that is exactly why I want you to go get it. It cost someone something. Someone went to a store, bought a brand new sleeping bag so a kid at camp would have one. They sacrificed buying something for themselves or for their own kids so someone else’s kid would have a sleeping bag. And if I were that donor, I’d be really bummed to know that a staffer slept in it three nights and then threw it away.”
Every single thing that is donated costs someone something.
Takers take, grabbing with one hand, faces turned away.
Receivers receive, palms up, looking the giver square in the eye, recognizing that the gift they are receiving is at the expense of another.
If I were still a social worker I would teach my clients to look for the face of the giver.
Years ago my old friend Craig took a bunch of us water-skiing. At the end of our really fun day, it occurred to me that our fun was at Craig’s expense. Boat gas, wear and tear, etc. So, as I was exiting his boat, I looked at him with gratitude and said, “Thank you.”
“No one has ever thanked me before,” he replied, a bit floored and with gratitude of his own.
“No one has ever thanked me before.” Pitiful words that have stuck with me.
Takers take like it’s owed them.
Receivers say thank you like it’s a gift.
When I married the hub, I had to figure out what to do with my condo.
Thought maybe I should hold onto it awhile….juuuust in case….…… just kidding, hub.
I was pondering what to do with it when one of my co-ministers at the pregnancy center mentioned that her church had just hired a new youth pastor from the other side of the state. He and his wife would need a place to live.
The condo is only 1/4 mile from her church.
The couple was young and had no money so I offered it at a discount. I charged only enough to cover the association dues, taxes and insurance. I made no profit from the rental.
Everything was fine for the first several months. And then the rent was late.
And then it was late again.
And then it didn’t come at all. I called, left a message, called again, left another message, called again, left another message.
I called the church. The young man no longer worked there.
I drove over to the condo and knocked on the door. The young woman eventually answered, with a baby in her arms, and explained that her husband had lost his job and was unemployed for awhile.
I told her that if she had called and explained, I would have gladly worked with her to come up with a payment plan. I would have understood. Not returning my calls was rude and disrespectful. “Be honest with people,” I said, “and they will work with you.”
Don’t treat givers like they are the enemy.
She promised, now that her husband was working again, that they would catch up on their rent.
They didn’t. They owed us five months worth when they moved into her parents’ basement and stuck us with their past due electric bill.
A few years later, I offered the condo again.
My daughter was dating a young man with a sob story.
If only he didn’t live in Detroit…
If only his parents would help him….
If only he had a car…
So I offered my condo. Out of Detroit in a safe, affluent suburb. So he could get a job. I offered it at half the cost of the dues, taxes and insurance. The hub and I were paying the other half.
As he was moving in, I overheard him tell his dad he was thinking of getting a roommate and charging the roommate rent, make a little money off the deal.
He got a job at a dealership 6 miles away. There was a bus stop real near the condo and another one real near the dealership.
But taking the bus was beneath him…
My daughter’s dad sold him a car. He didn’t make the payments. He used the car to drive back into the city on the weekends, where he blew his money and showed off to his inner-city friends.
Turns out his parents did try to help him. They enrolled him in a private school when he was in eighth grade, at great expense to them and his six siblings, because he was being beat up almost daily in the public school. He didn’t study. Dreamed instead of being the next Eminem. Squandered the opportunity his family gave him.
Fortunately, all the help we gave him, all the help he squandered, clearly showed my daughter that his failures weren’t for a lack of help, they were for a lack of character. She watched him grab the condo with nothing but contempt; grab the car with his face turned away.
She ended the relationship and a few months later he moved out of the condo. Owing us several months rent and owing her dad several car payments.
I’m sure to whomever would listen he was once again the victim.
The victim of his ex-girlfriend’s mean old parents who charged him a whole $300/month to live in a very pleasant place. The victim of his ex-girlfriend’s dad who took him to small claims court. (Her dad isn’t as forgiving of debts as I.)
Poor, poor him. Couldn’t catch a break.
Had he made the most of the opportunities we afforded him, done his part, acted responsibly, we would have gladly invested more. Darn shame. I pray he eventually matures to the point of understanding.
So here’s what I would teach my clients:
- Everything you get for free costs someone something. Be grateful for their sacrifice.
- Make the most of the help and opportunities given you and people will want to give you more.
- Those who give are not your enemy. Don’t treat generosity with contempt.
- No one owes you anything. Not even God. So say thank you.
- There is a flesh and blood person just like you – with feelings and hopes and struggles – attached to the hand from which you are taking.
Government giving has generated an attitude of entitlement. The game is to get as much as you can for free. When it’s from the government, it’s from the government and few stop to think about who “the government” is.
When givers are faceless, gifts are devalued, disposable.
When giving is forced, i.e. through taxes, givers are robbed of the heart to heart, face to face blessing that Jesus spoke of when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The church used to be in charge of social welfare. I would love to see us resume that responsibility. It would give us something more useful to do than build youthtastic climbing walls and sit around gazing at our theological navels.
Let’s allow people in our communities to receive. Let’s allow them grateful hearts and an eye on one day giving back.
Let’s allow people in our communities to give. Let’s allow them to watch their gifts grow and flourish.
And let us ALL be grateful.