When I was in the third grade, my dad was among the preachers who didn’t make much money. With Christmas approaching, he often said I’d be getting a bundle of sticks or straw, or maybe a lump of coal. I knew he was teasing, but I also understood the hidden meaning. I couldn’t expect to get much.
Making a list for Santa was a waste of time, but I could dream. I picked up the three-inch-think Montgomery Ward catalog and turned to the pictures of toys, which was the only section printed in color. Besides imagining what it would be like to own these expensive toys, I was preparing what I would say when kids at school asked what I got for Christmas. I could talk about everything in the catalog, which I had enjoyed in my dreams, just not in real life.
A few weeks before Christmas, I got one dollar to buy gifts for Mom, Dad, and my younger brother and sister. In those days, a quarter would buy a gallon of gas, eight first-class stamps, or five huge ice cream cones. While that is much more than what a quarter would buy today, those limited funds challenged me to find something each person would appreciate and didn’t already have. If I had five cents left over, I could have bought myself an ice cream cone, but that thought never crossed my mind. An extra penny would let me include an additional trinket or candy bar in the package wrapped with used gift paper.
Because I expected so little, I could be thankful for whatever I got, even if that included socks and underwear. But what I most value from those days is learning the great thrill that comes from giving.
When Jesus said greater blessing is found in giving, not in receiving (Acts 20:35), he wasn’t talking about a gift exchange. He was talking about the thrill we can have in giving what others will appreciate but don’t have, when there is no return favor to be received.
If we really believed there was greater blessing in giving, wouldn’t we strive to be like the widow who gave everything she had?
“This poor widow has given more than all those rich people together,” Jesus said. “The rich gave a portion of their abundance that they will never miss, but she has given all she had to live on.” — Mark 12:43–44