Giving Like a Child

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
~ 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

“How was the concert?” I asked my two eldest children as they trooped through the door in the wee hours of the morning.

“I loved it!” my 14-year-old enthused. “And now I need to make $40 a month, because I signed up to sponsor a little boy in Bangladesh. Do you know how I can make $40 a month?”

Apparently, the concert intermission had featured a tear-jerking video montage of children in need, followed by a call to sign up to as a sponsor.

I glanced at my 12-year-old. “Did you sign up to sponsor a child, too?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I don’t have $40.”

(Neither did my 14-year-old, just for the record.)

Then, after a pause, my 12-year-old asked, “…can I have $40?”

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that my children came home without a single thing to say about the concert itself, but instead with a new line item in my monthly budget. My children are givers. They’ve always been this way. And while I’d like to pat myself on the back and credit my good parenting skills, I think the truth is that this is just how they came wired.

Our family is inundated with opportunities to give. We don’t need to attend a concert to be asked for donations; in the past week alone I’ve received appeals for the school coat drive, the preschool toy drive, our church’s Thanksgiving baskets, three cancer foundations, two crisis hotlines, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and a variety of ministries we support that pepper my inbox this time of year with requests. Every store I walk into has some sort of box or basket set up for donations, and that’s not even touching on all the people I see whose needs aren’t represented by savvy fundraising appeals or brightly ringing bells.

I find it easy to become overwhelmed by all the ways I am asked to give. But my children are not.

I find it easy to become overwhelmed by all the ways I am asked to give. But my children are not. Perhaps because, for them, there isn’t a question of where to give or which ministry to support. For my children, the answer is always “yes.” The opportunity to give is just that: an opportunity. And something that fills them with joy.

My cynical side is quick to point out that of course my children love to give; the money they’re giving isn’t theirs to begin with. But that’s not entirely true. We’ve held birthday parties where—at the birthday child’s request—guests bring presents to donate to children in need. Our summer lemonade stand to raise money for Water Missions has become an annual event, with this year’s money raised so exceeding any previous year that I was suspicious—until I discovered my 14-year-old had donated all the money she’d recently received at her confirmation. And when I look beyond the financial aspect and start to count up the number of hours my older children volunteer in church every week, it’s apparent that they aren’t just doing this because it’s fun to spend my money. Giving is something they love to do.

The other day I found my seven-year-old attempting to pry the pull tabs off of several unopened cans of seltzer water. When I asked what she was doing, she told me her school was collecting tabs to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. So she was pulling off the tabs. It wouldn’t have even occurred to her to wait until the cans were opened; she wanted to meet the need now.

I want to be able to give with that kind of abandon. And I don’t think the answer lies in a bigger savings account, but in a bigger heart.

I want to be able to give with that kind of abandon. And I don’t think the answer lies in a bigger savings account, but in a bigger heart. As we launch full steam ahead into the season of giving this year, I’m trying to follow my children’s lead. I’m trying to see giving as not an obligation, but a privilege and a joy. Instead of counting all the ways I can’t give, I’m looking for all the ways I can. I’m seeking a philosophy of giving where, like my children, my answer can always be “yes.”

Join me?

Elrena Evans is Editor and Content Strategist for Christians for Social Action, where she curates a daily blog dedicated to the intersection of faith and social justice. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Penn State, and has written for Christianity Today, Red Letter Christians, The Mudroom, Literary Mama, Episcopal Life, and elsewhere. She is the author of a short story collection, This Crowded Night, and co-author of the essay collection Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. She enjoys spending time with her family, dancing, and making spreadsheets.

You may also want to read