When Generosity Doesn’t Go Quite As Planned…

The couple that showed up for church this particular [pre-COVID] Sunday had been invited by the friend of a friend… and that friend had met them at a plasma center, where they were all trying to make a few bucks selling their plasma.

The couple wasn’t married, and there was a significant age difference between them. The girl looked barely 20, and the guy had to be in his mid-30s. The smell of smoke hung heavily around them. They stayed for the potluck after church, and we found out that they were living in a nearby hotel while they waited for repairs on his pickup. He had just started a new construction job as a union worker.

We exchanged phone numbers, and I texted them that afternoon to invite them over for dinner. It was nothing fancy – just takeout Chinese. But we talked and laughed, and she chased my kids around in the backyard, playing tag and giggling.

When it was time for us to drive them home, my husband and I looked at each other. Somehow, in one of those weird, surreal moments when you know that you’re both thinking the same thing, we admitted out loud what we had already been thinking. We both felt a nudge to lend them one of our cars. It was a 15 year old Camry, with a homemade paint job and sagging ceiling fabric, but it was Todd’s first car – the first car we went on a date in, and the place where Todd asked me to be his girlfriend.

Well, you can guess the rest of the story. Missed phone calls, unreturned texts, an empty hotel room… we didn’t see the car again for months. In the meantime, we worried that since we were still carrying the insurance on the car, any accidents or tickets they racked up would become our liability. We prayed that they wouldn’t cause any massive injuries or send anyone to the hospital.

And then, after months of Facebook stalking, we got a drunken lead out of one of them. The car was on someone’s farm, about 3 hours away. It would need to be towed if we wanted to bring it back. They had wanted to get it fixed before they returned it, but they didn’t have the money. Between a run-in with a deer, a deconstructed ignition, and the overpowering smell of smoke and booze, it was practically totaled.

We towed it back home, and sold it for parts. Sentimentally, it hurt, although it wasn’t an enormous financial loss for us (thank God they only hit a deer!). And our only “tangible” reward was being told that we were angels, and that we had restored their faith in the goodness of humanity. (Although, in the grand scheme of things – that may have been cancelled out by our own diminished view of the human race – ha!).

In this case, though, as in many other cases where God calls us to serve or to give sacrificially – I don’t think the point of giving was to bless the people who RECEIVED the gift. Like Abram offering his son Isaac on the altar, the point was more about us, about our hearts, about obedience to God’s promptings, and about letting go of how tightly we hold onto time and possessions… which aren’t really “ours” to begin with.

Whether or not this couple had their lives changed by the receiving of our gift, our hearts were changed by the GIVING of the gift. And isn’t that just like God, to turn everything – even generosity – upside-down?

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” – Philippians 3:7-9

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