It was awkward.
My husband and I stood in a long line at the funeral home, looking as pictures of a deceased young woman we’d never known played on large screens nearby. The crowd was huge, and the grief immense. But we were strangers. Quiet and solemn, we shuffled through the line.
And then, as we approached the end, we saw them: two pale, familiar faces of friends we knew from church. The young woman who had passed away from cancer had been a close family member of theirs; we knew they were grieving. Our time with them was brief because the line was so long- we couldn’t do much more than give them a few hugs and some words of condolence.
Years later, we ran into one of those friends again in a grocery store parking lot. He had stopped attending that old church, as had we; we’d all fallen out of touch. But we were happy to see each other, and as we caught up, he said something that struck me: “I just remember how you guys just–you know, you showed up that night. And we were so glad. I mean the church did a lot, they sent us some money and flowers, but you guys showed up and it meant the world.”
You showed up.
It really doesn’t take much, does it?
As we get busier and busier, I think the temptation for a lot of Christians – including me – is to throw money at service opportunities. Poverty in your community? Write a check. Struggling children locally? Write a check! A bereavement or a serious illness in your congregation? Write a check. For those with the financial security, it’s simple. It’s easy. And it’s useful – who’s going to turn down money?
It can also be meaningless in comparison to actual service in love.
That’s not to say giving money is bad. Sometimes – as now, with the devastating flooding in Texas – donations and prayers are the best things faraway believers can do for our brethren. Jesus praised the widow who gave all she had. Sometimes local food banks prefer the flexibility of a cash donation to actual items. Context matters, and sometimes money given at the right moment can do a world of good.
But sometimes it’s good to examine our giving, and make sure that the act of writing a check isn’t a way to escape honest-to-goodness sacrificial love, to shirk the emotional (and sometimes physical!) labor involved in care.
Money helps, for sure. But it’s only part of the equation. When my house burned down when I was in the third grade, it was the generosity of believers that got us through. It was also the people who visited, who made meals, who prayed with us, who came to cheer me up bearing stuffed animals and books. When my mother had an awful accident, money helped, but so did the kind church lady who walked into our scattered house one day carrying spaghetti, bread, vegetables, and dessert and who lightened our moods with her laughter. And when my grandmother passed away, what I remember more than anything were the faces of the people who came to the funeral to offer hugs, to tell stories, and to support us.
So every and now then, I think, a check of our motives is appropriate. That doesn’t mean to stop giving – by no means! Give away! Give as much as you can stand. But also make sure that your financial giving is matched by other service, too: it can mean just as much to the recipient, and sometimes more.