My son digs the bills out of his left pocket, spreading them flat on his thigh. He smiles–a small, delighted surrender, preparing for the giving.
And somewhere long past—somewhere God can still see unfolding right with our present, a woman’s feet stir the dust as she walks purposefully toward Temple. Lightly, she walks across the multicolored, sunwashed stones, her feet perhaps a little sore with age. She has prepared her offering too, carefully holding it in the palm, weighing the last feel of it. Elsewhere on the scroll of time coming, an ancient people gather their treasures in open hands—the shining plunder of Egypt, the plunder God promised when He said, “You will not leave empty-handed (Exodus 3:21).” Another woman, sometime later, wraps her well-saved alabaster box of perfume in a fold of cloth. And on an utterly blinding point in time, Christ–the Messiah, the Lamb, the King of Kings, turns his back on all the splendor of Heaven to resolutely press bloodied back, torn limbs, against a cross. And as He always has and always will, the Lord watches over our giving.
“This is your money for giving at church,” Adam whispers to me, smoothing the bills, making a neat stack.
I can see, by the size of the offering, that it’s everything he has, the contents of all three jars on his dresser—the one clearly labeled “money for church,” and
the one labeled “money to keep,” and the one that says, “money for a Chris Tomlin CD.”
Zoe can see it too. She looks from me to the stack of money on Adam’s lap just as the ushers spread out with the trays. We sit in the front, so there’s not much time. She shrugs. ”It’s his choice,” she mouths to me, repeating something I said to her the week before when Adam did the same thing, when the tray came and he cleaned himself out, putting in everything he had. That day, she had been in the process of cramming some of Adam’s offering back into his pocket, pressing a dollar bill into his palm, roughly whispering, “Just this,” and I had gently stilled her with my hand, touching her. Something about it had been all wrong, the well-meant restraining of his giving, and I had said, “It’s okay. It’s his choice.” The way he gives it all only makes me anxious to refill his jars.
At home and at school, we have lately worked to teach my son a bit about the value of money. He, like the girls, earns a “paycheck” every Saturday if he works diligently all week to complete a daily list of work. I put the jars in his room, handwriting the bright paper labels and taping them. Every time Adam gets paid, I show him how to divide the bills among the jars as the simplest possible lesson in budgeting–some to give, some to save, some to spend. Music is Adam’s favorite thing, so I thought a specific goal—like a new CD—would be something motivating for him, something to help him understand that money is both desirable and useful for purchasing. One day, I reason, he will need to have a job, he–especially of my three–will need to know why he should want to work, and he will need to understand what to do with the money he earns. So, this was a beginning.
Within a week of starting, Adam caught on enough to ask me for money right in the store, with his hands flat out in front of him. ”Money,” he said, “May I have money, please.” When that didn’t work, he changed the words a little. ”May I have monies—some one monies—please. Right there,” he said, pointing at his own palm. A child with autism really is a soul traveling through a foreign country, just trying to pick up pieces of the vernacular, trying to see if someone might possibly understand. My son knows, more than any neurotypical person can, what it means to be “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” And God is certainly not ashamed to be called his God, for He “has prepared a city” to which our Adam will one day come home (Hebrews 11:16).
It took Adam a little longer to catch on to the idea that “pay day” followed a week of work done, and that it would take a while to save up enough money to buy his music. I wrote down the cost of the CD on his jar label, and every pay day, we count how much he has and I ask him how much he still needs. The math is easy for him, and once he understood the process, the waiting also became less stressful. Now Adam gets excited about earning money, excited about a job well done, excited about stuffing the bills in the jars and counting how much more.
But still, after so many lessons, it seems impossible to impress upon my son that he has any reason to keep any of his money. Sunday, I saw the way he brought in his offering with his clothes when he went to take his shower. He stacked the bills carefully, right next to his jeans, his shirt, so as not to forget to put them in his pocket. I saw this and felt an echo, a Word deep: No one is to appear before me empty-handed (Exodus 34:20). Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give (2 Cor. 9:7). And this because God has never left us empty-handed, but has instead allowed us to gather the shining wealth of Heaven, His glory, as our own inheritance. I stood looking at Adam’s neat stack of bills and I knew that he had once again emptied the jars, careless of the neon printed labels for dividing, careless of the music he wanted to buy. He doesn’t get it, I thought. But then, maybe—somehow—he does.
Across time, God smiles on reckless givers with crazy faith, on those who trust that He will yet fill their hands and not leave them standing empty. The widow “put in all she had to live on (Luke 21:4),” and even now, I read her story and think she’s a little nuts—you know, a bit over.the.top. Of course, the point of the passage isn’t really that we should give up everything we have to live on. Right? And when Jesus told that man—the one who wanted to inherit eternal life, the one who had kept the commandments since he was a boy (or so he claimed), the one Jesus loved, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor (Mark 10:21),” that wasn’t meant to be taken literally either. Right? That’s just, well, crazy. Which is naturally what everyone thought when the woman who anointed Jesus for burial shattered the neck of her perfume bottle and poured the contents right over His head. Why this waste (Mark 14:4)? Imagine saving up more than a year’s salary—every penny—and then burning it for incense. It’s madness. And what does Word say about the sacrifice the Lord made (for surely His was a reckless, crazy-mad course all the way back to Jerusalem where He knew He would die)? It’s foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18).
So this last stops me cold, stuck in my muddy, incredulous excuses, because the Spirit says another thing, loving me. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written: ” I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate (1 Cor. 1:19). As He always has and always will, the Lord watches over our giving. And watching, gesturing away from His disciples with His hand, He says this about the widow: She put in more than all the others, because she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. To the woman afraid to make bread for the prophet because it will take the last of her oil and flour and they are starving to death, He says, Give it all and you will never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15). And when that woman’s perfume dripped over His scalp and maybe on His cheeks, scenting the room, and some flung their faithless criticisms, calling her frivilous, He speaks so: “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing. She did what she could (Mark 14: 6-8).”
There was a time, Spirit says, looking right into the heart of God, when Moses had to command my people to stop their ceaseless giving, but it wasn’t because their reckless, emptying hands were ever not refilled. It wasn’t that maybe they wouldn’t have enough, that after I gave them the plunder of Egypt Moses worried they might starve. No. My people had to be restrained—restrained—from bringing more, because what they had already given was more than enough to do all the work (Exodus 36:3-7).
So my son drops all of his money in the plate, and the widow’s last two coins clink in the trumpet-shaped chest, and the neck of the perfume jar shatters, and this is what I see:
I see that He wants me giving all from a heart that delights in the surrender, a heart that just can’t fathom why maybe I should keep any. I see that He wants me selling off my earthly treasure until He restrains me, until He gently lays a hand on me and whispers, “It’s more than enough.” I see that He wants me giving until someone calls me reckless, frivilous, until someone is so incredulous they want to stuff part of my faith right back in my pockets. I see that He really wants this heart ready to surrender all I have to live on. And I see–I know – - that if I say my hope is in Him, I should live like one who believes what He says.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. …God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. ..You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion (2 Cor. 9: 6-8, 11).
I see it clear: He fills my hands that I might empty them, that I might empty every jar, clear shatter the necks right off and see Him fill them again, as He promised.
So go ahead, call me crazy.