My mom showed us how to love others well.
Growing up, she filled our kitchen with the smells of chicken casserole or homemade lasagna when we learned of someone in our church with a loss in the family. She buzzed around the kitchen with a sense of purpose, and I loved how she always included fresh salad, bread, and dessert with the meal.
At the holidays, she taught us the joy of giving by filling bags with gifts and clothing for others in need. And it was never just one little present but bags full. She folded precise edges to the wrapping paper and taped them down with care. She held the ribbons taut and used the edge of a pair of scissors to curl them for an extra special touch, just as she would for us.
And as a teacher, I watched her go above and beyond for her middle school students. I lost count of the number of students who wrote about my mom’s giving spirit and encouragement in their college admissions essays.
Whenever I struggled with loneliness or sadness in adolescence and early adulthood, she encouraged me to look around. By finding others who were hurting, I could take my eyes off of my own pain for just a little while and be a friend to others who needed love too.
As I entered into adulthood, my mom’s example of serving and giving naturally became a part of my interactions with others. I’d smile to myself when I’d bring meals to friends with new babies, with a dish towel underneath the hot dish on the front seat of my minivan, reminding me of the exact way my mom transported her meals. I looked for ways to love others at work, church, and in my community. There were always more ways to give and more people to love. And these loving acts I offered made me feel good, like I was doing something important for those in need.
But then I became the “least of these” as a young, divorced single mom in my mid-twenties. As I navigated my new status as a single parent, one of my biggest struggles was realizing how much help I needed. I worked two jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck, sometimes skipping meals so that my son would have enough to eat. I obsessively checked my bank account balance, holding my breath for another overdraft fee if a bill came out too early. I wanted to be the one pouring out and loving well, but in my emotional, physical, and financial exhaustion, I had nothing left.
God met me there — empty, broken-hearted, and with nothing left to give. He showed up in the helpers when I suddenly found myself identifying as the one in need.
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
One woman in my church often handed me a stack of coupons when she saw me. “Not sure if you could use these, but I just thought I’d pass them along,” she said each time.
My coworker and her husband spent an entire day with me at my new apartment painting my living room the soft mint color I picked out. I was so embarrassed for how long the project took, but they joyfully gave up their day to help me without my asking twice.
A huge glass jar full of coins and dollar bills showed up in a paper grocery bag on my door step one month, meeting the need for an unexpected bill I had no idea how to pay. To this day, I still have no idea who gifted it to us.
While it can sometimes be easier as Christ followers to pour ourselves out and show others love through our giving, there are also times when we need to learn to receive.
In that humbling and hard season, God taught me the humility of accepting the offerings of others. He used the people around me to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
After a crisis or right around the expected times, like the holidays, lots of people show up and say with the best intentions, “Please let me know if you need anything.”
But as the one who has now walked through deep need, I’ve learned the beauty of the quiet helpers who show up without asking, who see a need and step in to serve, who love without expectation of a thank you or acknowledgement, who see the least of these and give of themselves. I want to be that kind of helper.
There is certainly a time to mourn and a time to laugh, a time to plant and a time to uproot, and yes, a time to give and a time to receive. May we be humble enough to give without expectation and to receive help when we need it. There is a time and a season for both.Leave a Comment