This weekend we were in Chicago. We made slow progress walking down Michigan Avenue as we kept having to stop and wait for the boys, who were lagging behind dawdling and playing about. At one point we passed a homeless man who was asking for money. I turned around a little later and saw Isaac walking over to the man and digging in his pockets. When he caught up with us he said “Mom, I just gave all my money to a man who needed a sandwich. He was a really good salesman—he just said he needed money and I gave him all that I had.” He had emptied his pockets and given all his money (51 cents) away in a single, spontaneous act of compassion.
It is a really big deal if Isaac gives you money. He doesn’t usually have much and he guards his cash carefully. I found myself moved by this act of generosity as I watched him walk away from the man with his hands in his empty pockets. Everyone else in our family must have felt the same way because the next person we met who asked for money got something from us all. I felt kind of privileged to have seen this child react simply in response to the need of a fellow human being and deliver all that he had into the man’s cup. I wondered about when I last gave anything away with that kind of spirit. Do I look for opportunities to do that? For those few moments on Michigan Avenue, amid the hustle and bustle, I had the feeling that I had witnessed a beautiful illustration of the true nature of generosity. It doesn’t count the cost, it gives in response to a need with the sole goal of meeting that need. It doesn’t give to get a tax deduction, or to show off to an audience, or to gain popularity. It doesn’t refuse to give because the gift might be undeserved, or might be spent on something it disapproves of, it simply gives.
OK. This was only 51 cents. But it was everything he had. There is a bible story about a widow who gave only a penny (a mite) in offering at the temple, while others gave much more. But she was honored more than them all, because out of her poverty she gave all that she had. Isaac gave his mite to a man in need and in his childish innocence he gave me a lesson about purity in giving that I will not forget. I have learned again the old lesson that the numerical amount that is given is almost beside the point; the important thing is the spirit in which the gift is given.