The season of giving is upon us.
The charity trees are up, branches heavy with tags for the taking. Giant boxes are out for toy and shoe and coat and glove drives. My dentist’s office is collecting canned food from patients in exchange for ten percent off treatment. The Operation Christmas Child pile at my church is so big now it looks like a wall.
None of these things are bad. In fact, all of them are good, and I encourage you to participate if you have the chance.
At the same time, all of these forms of giving can feel, at times, distinctly impersonal and even abstract. When giving consists of us grabbing the cans we’re never going to get through and throwing them into a bag, or when charity hinges on us cleaning out our coat closets or throwing goodie-parties to fill shoeboxes, there can end up being a disconnect: we’re serving, but we’re far from the people we’re serving.
I’ve seen people pray over the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, but rarely over boxes of canned food or old coats. It’s hard to imagine who might be on the other end of those forms of charity, and in those cases, the giving isn’t really about relationship. It’s a one-way transaction with little or no emotional or even spiritual involvement.
So may I suggest that you redefine your giving a bit this year?
Don’t stop giving to your coat drives or your canned food events. Fill up as many shoeboxes as you want. At the same time, I encourage this year to also go local and, in a sense, go small in terms of target. Find a person, a family, a relationship that you can serve yourself, not just with material goods. Find a service that you can provide, yourself, to some people who might benefit from it. Get into the emotional and spiritual muck of serving, as well as the financial aspect.
- Adopt-A-Grandpa/Grandma: find an elderly member of your congregation who might be lonely this holiday season and “adopt” them in some way. Maybe this means writing letters or cards or making them lunch; maybe it means inviting them over for Thanksgiving dinner. You be the judge.
- Volunteer at a literacy or library program for underprivileged children. Go read a book to some kids in need of sharpening their literary skills.
- Go pitch in at a local charitable office. Rather than simply dropping off food/coats/toys, go spend a few hours helping a local charity stock or pass out or manage inventory.
- Volunteer to write Christmas cards for someone who might need the help.
- Bake some cookies or grab some food for your local police/fire department/librarians/city servants/sanitation folks. (Hint: police and fire are often deluged at this time of year with goodies and goodwill, so spread the wealth to other hard workers in your city if that’s true in your area).
- When you’re out at a restaurant, take along an encouraging note or card, then leave it for a particularly harried-looking family. (If you can afford it, pay for their meal!)
- Surprise your local McDonald’s/Wendy’s/fast-food drive-through employee with a small gift, a sincere thank you, or even a little note.
- Get out on Black Friday…not to buy anything, but to encourage and uplift the poor souls who have to start working at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
I’m sure you can think of your own ideas. I just realize more and more lately that it’s important that believers don’t get disconnected from our giving – that we don’t feel we’ve “done our part” just by throwing some material goods into the ring. Yes, we certainly need to do those things and to provide for the needy and less fortunate among us, but we can also do that in ways that are not solely material – in ways that may touch the heart or the spirit more than anything tangible we can provide.
(And parents, some of these things are fun to do with your kids, too!)