I had been collecting coins for weeks, knowing that we would head downtown for our holiday evening out. We would see the storefront windows, wander through Christmas shops, splurge on treats and a simple meal, and enjoy the festive spirit of the crowd. But there was more to this trip than an opportunity for fun. Our city is full of people in need and my children have been blessed with compassionate hearts. We would have fun, but we would also use this day to foster in our kids sensitivity to the Spirit and a way to respond.
Yes, the coins would be important, but even more significant was teaching the gift of empathy. In Matthew 25:34-36 Jesus teaches that what we do for others matters for eternity,
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
On the morning of our outing, I gave each of my kids a baggie full of change. We talked about how, even though our budget is tight, we have been blessed with more than we need. We talked about the many people who have no homes, few clothes, very little to eat. We asked our children to watch and listen and feel and act as they walked through our city that day.
As we began, the needs were not clear. So we walked together, enjoying the sights and reveling in the festivity around. We went to dinner, warmed our hands, enjoyed the company and headed back out. My youngest son held his leftover dinner in a box, which would make a lunch for him to bring to school the next day.
One block walked, and my son saw him first. A man, cross-legged, on the street. “Hungry,” his sign read. “Please help.”
If my vision were better, I might have seen God draw near my boy and whisper into his ear. He stopped on the street, still clasping his leftover dinner. A precious box. Turning to the seated man, he held out his meal and smiled as they locked gaze.
“Would this help?” my boy said.
“Thank you. Yes.” A genuine grin.
And we walked on.
On the next corner, there was a gentleman ringing a bell and collecting to help the needy. Not 10 feet from him was a woman, wrapped in a worn blanket, seated on the sidewalk and rocking to and fro. Two of my children put change in the red bucket, but my oldest stood back to see. He looked from one to the other, from the ringer to the woman, and he slowly shook his head. Turning toward the shrouded figure, he reached out gently, offered her all that he had, and looked at her face-to-face.
He came to me and said, “I don’t know why I need to give to her, but I do. I know that the money from that bucket helps too, but today, it was her I had to help.”
I reminded him that it is not for us to understand how and why God has us act the way we do. We need only respond to His nudging and trust Him to do with our offering what He will do.
As we drove home, I reflected on the day we had shared together. While it overflowed with simple expressions of the season, it also offered an opportunity for us to teach our children to act on the feelings of compassion that God has bestowed upon them. We taught our kids to see the wonder in the world around us, but not at the expense of others nearby. We gave them the chance to see their place in a world that is simultaneously filled with amazing joy and overwhelming need.
As we pulled into our driveway, I could not help but wonder what the world would look like if we chose daily to respond as we are prompted with whatever little we have. What offering might we bring that could change another’s life… if we lived like this every day?
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra