By Kari Miller
I tell you the truth, he said, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. Luke 21:3,4
Giving out of our wealth giving out of our wealthThose words have rolled around in my mind and my soul this week. In fact, they have had a haunting effect. In all honesty, I give out of my wealth. I give out of the extra, the left-over. I meet all my needs first. I make sure that I do not go without, and then, I give what is left over. This kind of giving is all I have ever known. As Americans, we are taught from a very young age to use money to first meet our own needs and desires and then if we are compassionate, to give to others. Over and over, we are told to preserve ourselves first and applauded when we do just that. Yet, Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves–to put their needs equally as important as our own. Interestingly, Jesus did not notice those who gave out of their wealth; instead, he noticed the impoverished widow who gave all she had. Thats right, all she had. Would we ever dare be so risky? Would we ever be so foolish as to love God with all we have?
Every Thursday afternoon, I spend time with widows. I have come to know their names. I recognize their faces in the crowd and see them as a collection of beautiful women who have been crushed by lifes cruelness. I see the devastating effects of HIV as it ravishes their bodies and leaves them feverish and full of sores. I hear stories of the orphans they love and care for, despite their almost total lack of resources. I pray with them as they praise their great King of Glory, asking him for food, shelter, improved health and school fees for their children. I sit among these suffering widows, and my heart feels heavy. Sitting there, you breathe in a combination of intense pain and long-suffering hope. Sometimes, I feel so plasticso fake. These are truly women of faith, dignity and intrinsic beauty. They have a depth of character and integrity that leaves me feeling shallow and nave.
This last meeting was one to remember. As the meeting drew to a close, I heard Rosemarys loud voice shouting, Widows, widows one of us is in trouble. Come and hear. Come. Come. As I walked toward her, I saw a young bony woman standing before her with her shoulders hunched into her chest. AIDS had stolen her shape, and she was now no more than bones and skin. She stood there shivering as big tears rolled down her cheeks. I was so stunned. I just stood there and stared at her, my eyes welling up with tears. Rosemary again began to speak, See our sister, our fellow widow. Her relatives have now disowned her and kicked her out of the house. [She] and her children have not eaten for two days. We must help our sister. I want all of you to get the money you have out of your pockets so this widow and her children may eat. The widows came en masse, surrounded the young woman, held her, and talked to her. The others with HIV began to encourage her, and as they did, these women with nothing began to produce coins from their pockets worth nothing more than $0.25 or $0.50. Rosemary continued shouting, Come, widows, give all you have to our fellow widow. She is in trouble. Widow after widow emptied their pockets giving this frail young widow their transportation money, their food money, their money they were saving for their childrens school fees.
I wish I had moved quickly, emptying my purse of its contents, but I just stood there mesmerized by what I was seeing. How can they give everything? Is that smart? Then I thought, how can they not give everything? I opened my purse and grabbed some money. For a brief moment, I thought about giving my wallets contents, but something inside whispered, keep what you think you need to live on, to pay for your expensive taxi home, to go out to dinner this weekend. So, I gave but out of my excess. Somewhere inside me there was a feeling of deep sadness. What did Jesus say about the wealthy, that seeing heaven is like a camel going through the eye of a needle? In that moment, I missed seeing what God would do. I pulled myself out of the blessing of giving to the least of these. I missed seeing heaven on earth, because I couldnt give like the widows. As I look at these words in print, I feel deep shame and guilt.
I backed away from the group as they surrounded this young frail widow and watched them give all they had. Shamefully, I looked at the ground and felt the deep disappointment of shrinking back from being Jesus hands and feet. Then, the widows surrounded her in a tight circle, lifted their hands to heaven, and prayed for her. I felt like collapsing to the ground, weeping over my innate selfishness. When will I ever be free from the sin that whispers death in my ears? When will I be strong enough to not listen to it? When will I learn to give like the widows?
One day, I want to give, really give out of what I have, not what I have left over. I want to see Jesus, and I want Jesus to notice my gift. I want to love my neighbor. I want to free myself from the thoughts that tell me I am more important than others. For nothing is impossible with God, so even selfish suburban girls like me have hope for a new way of living. God will teach us giving if we let him. If we are willing to let go of what we think we own, then God will show us a new way to manage resources. Like Paul, we will learn to be content with everything and with nothing, because in the end, it is all Gods to do with as he pleases. If he wants to give it all to his widows, then we will learn to give it freely. We will go without, and it will not kill us; in fact, we might really begin to live.
Will any of you be brave enough to ask God to teach you to give? Will you try it even once? Will you give and deprive yourself of what you need? I am trembling, but I want to learn to give, so I am brushing the dust off and continuing the journey. I hope to see you along the way.
Kari Miller is a 4th grade teacher who is passionate about loving Jesus and loving others. She longs to inspire others to love the least, the lost and the left out.