I was alone in a sketchy part of town pumping gas when a man approached me asking for money. Typically, this kind of thing wigs me out. It seems like a prelude to ending up on an episode of the evening news that you’ll never get to watch.
He explained that he needed to put gas in his car. Pulling out handfuls of change from his pockets, he showed me what he already collected.
It looked like enough to buy a Slim Jim and a pack of gum, but not a gallon of gas.
I didn’t say much. I asked him where his car was and followed him to the other side of the station. A woman sat in the badly beat up car and he told me that he was embarrassed to be asking for help in front of her.
With a swipe of my card, relief registered on his face. As his car guzzled gas, he told me how he was on his way to a job interview that afternoon and he just needed enough gas to make it there. He thanked me and said he wished there was some way he could repay me.
I thought of responding with something profound like “pay it forward,” but I was still having trouble finding my words.
Instead, I casually said, “Don’t worry about it,” smiled and walked away. I drove off feeling heady, that I did something nice for someone despite my initial hesitations.
Words kept playing like a loop in my mind – repay you, don’t worry about it, wish I could, don’t worry about it.
Someone recently did something nice for me that I can’t repay. It didn’t involve money, simply time and expertise. Without getting into details, I was as much humbled by this as I was grateful.
There was no win-win, quid pro-quo, or expectation for reciprocity, only generosity.
I’m not the type of person who needs to do everything for myself either. I am happy to sit on the couch and have you bring me a bowl of ice cream. As my husband can attest, I don’t think twice about this kind of gesture.
Perhaps, it’s only when I am incapable of doing something without help, that I suddenly become self-conscious accepting it. Experiencing someone’s sincere generosity is both gratifying and overwhelming. It is humbling when someone helps us in a meaningful way simply out of goodness without looking for recognition or repayment.
Most of the time I am okay with humility, but that’s because I tend to look at it in terms of a silver highlight in my hair that I didn’t pay for – not a reliance on someone else. But truthfully, we do rely on others. As self-sufficient as we aspire to be there are times when we need help, and true wisdom dictates that we have the humility to accept it.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
I thought of the person whom I helped, and again, of the one who helped me. I remember the words I chose when he expressed his gratitude – don’t worry about it.
I meant them. I wasn’t looking for repayment – our paths would likely never cross again. But I also get what it feels like to wish you could repay someone and have to surrender to the fact that you can’t.
We tend to think of generosity in terms of money, but there is so much that we can give one another that has nothing to do with wads of cash. There is our talent, our knowledge, our words of praise and encouragement. The need may not be as obvious as a panhandler, but it could indeed be as great. If we are not open to serving others, then we may inadvertently ignore the plight of people we care dearly about.
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want,” Proverbs 11:24
Sometimes I am shocked at how stingy people can be — and not with money either. But with the way they hold back kind words as if they are flies stuck on a glue trap. Acknowledge, enlighten and encourage. It’s really not that hard. It’s free and it’s priceless.
It frustrates me because there are days when I badly need a kind word. And yet, there it stubbornly sits on the end of another’s tongue never to be set free.
Perhaps I am being too harsh when more than likely, there is no ill-will meant. I am as guilty as anyone of being self-absorbed. It seems to be counter culture to not focus on your own pursuits, needs, interests and feelings. Yet, I realize that when I focus too much time inward, I lose sight of what’s upward – the call to serve God by serving others.
God is incredibly generous with us. He gave us His only son on the chance that we may someday be redeemed from our own sins and be with Him in heaven.
Nothing I ever say will compare to that level of generosity. Nor is there anything I can do with my life that will ever be so grand to repay that kind of sacrifice. And, I don’t think He would want me to worry about that either. He wants my love and devotion and He is worthy of it. He doesn’t want me to serve Him because of my debt. He’s just not that kind of God.
We can’t always pay back the people in this world that are kind to us either. Sometimes we simply have to accept with gratitude and humility that there is goodness in this world and that somehow we were blessed enough to be touched by it.
Generosity has a way of traveling on, long after we have reached our destination. The death and resurrection of Jesus taught us that. So as I journey through life, I aspire to be generous whenever I can — including ways that have nothing to do with money.
And when I can’t, when I find myself blessed on the receiving end of a gift, I will simply smile, thank God and perhaps utter those reassuring words my humble heart needs to hear — don’t worry about it.