A Bell Ringer’s Epiphany
by Linda Wood Rondeau
At this time of year, many charities look for donations. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by the demands on our limited resources. Most cannot afford to give to every group who asks for help. Deciding to which charity we should give can be overwhelming.
I struggled with this question . . . until I had an epiphany.
Short on cash that year, I decided to volunteer as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Drive. At the time, we lived in Northern New York where December temperatures can plunge well below zero. On days such as this, there is not enough hot ginger tea in the world to warm me up.
Yet, I had made a promise, so I did my duty . . . albeit begrudgingly. I took my emblem of service, the golden bell, donned the appropriate costume and withstood the frigid weather. As often is the case when our attitudes need an adjustment, the Spirit readied to give me a life-lesson in giving.
“Pay attention,” the Spirit said.
“Who, me? Don’t I always.”
“Oh, but you have much to learn, child. Observe how people approach this opportunity to give.”
If nothing else, the lesson in studying human nature might help the time pass. Maybe I’d forget about the cold temperatures if I focused on something else other than my discomfort.
One by one the givers passed the red bowl and dropped in their donations. To my surprise, I learned a great deal about why and how and why people give. From my observation I learned there were five categories of givers.
First . . . those who give from sorrow. Some givers are motivated by a sense of loss. Perhaps they hope to honor someone they’ve lost through an unselfish act. Or they may donate in another’s memory.
One woman stopped by who said this would be the first Christmas since her mother passed away, and her father had died the year before. She stuffed the cradle with a twenty-dollar bill as she reminisced how her mother faithfully served as a bell ringer. Her eyes filled with tears. Uncomfortable with her show of emotion, she rushed off with quick, “Thank you for doing this.”
The Spirit said: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV).
Secondly . . . some give from their abundance. There are those who genuinely are appreciative of their good fortune and wish to share their wealth with others. This is honorable and good. A man who oozed abundance, his leather jacket and bulging wallet indicators he could well afford to part with some of his wad, approached with the confidence that comes from a lifetime of never being in want. He handed me a ten-dollar bill to put in on his behalf then waltzed away with a prideful swagger.
The Spirit said: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48b)
Thirdly . . . some give from need. There are those who believe the more they give the more they will receive, a sort of gamble that if they shake loose enough of their possessions, they will be given even more than what they had donated. They believe their paltry offering to be a talisman.
One elderly woman approached me who wore a torn coat, maybe popular twenty years ago. Her gloves sported holes where her fingers stuck out, and her scarf was threadbare. She emptied her change purse into the canister. “This is all I have left. It worked for the widow whom Jesus praised. Maybe God will bless me, too.”
And the Spirit said: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 KJV).
Fourthly . . . some give from guilt. There are those who give to simply make themselves feel better about themselves . . . perhaps their way of coping with unconfessed sin. They believe their charitable deeds will win brownie points with God.
Another elderly lady approached me, her head hung so low I wondered how it stayed on top of her shoulders. She possessed a dour grimace as she glared at the kettle. “I can’t sleep at night if I pass by one of these buckets and not give something.” She dropped a five-dollar bill and trotted off as quickly as she could, head held a little higher.
The Spirit said: “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3 KJV).
Fifthly . . . some give in thankfulness for their salvation. This is the motivation God desires to see in his children. Gratitude cannot be manufactured, the gift does not come from a heart in need, or one that hopes to assuage guilt. They give because of their joy . . . not trying to find joy because they have given. A young man came up to me with an eagerness that emulated Tigger’s Happy Bounce. He whistled as he tossed in his coins with no worry as to how much or if I noticed what he gave. “I am overjoyed when I have an opportunity to share. God has been so good to me. This is one small way I can say, ‘Thank you.’”
The Spirit said: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 KJV).
Then I knew what the Spirit wanted me to learn: Give because God first gave to us . . . our offering should come from a grateful heart. Once we have determined a right motivation, God will direct our steps as to how much and to where we should give.
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