Back in January my friend Lexie got a call from World Vision. No doubt the woman who called was hoping she’d found another Major Donor. Lexie and her husband had made a significant donation in December.
“I was just wondering,” the woman said, “about your recent donation.”
Lexie grinned into the phone. “How much time do you have?” she asked.
Four years earlier, Lexie’s husband, David, had been injured in a debilitating car accident. The accident was in a company vehicle, so his medical expenses should have been covered by the company and their insurance. But David and Lexie had to fight every step of the way to get the money to cover his surgeries and physical therapy. David was unable to work, so they used their savings to pay rent, to feed their six kids, to keep the lights on and the water running at their house.
As their savings dwindled, Lexie prayed that God would keep them out of debt. All of David’s medical bills were on lien, the doctors and specialists trusting that the justice of David’s case would prevail and they would be paid when it was. Lexie saw this as a huge part of God’s faithfulness to them, that they did not have to borrow money to pay for David’s mounting medical expenses.
After three years, their savings ran out and they had to borrow money to pay their rent and rely on their church community to provide food for their family until David was well enough to work again, which, amazingly, was only a couple months later!
Through it all Lexie had to walk by faith that God would provide, would heal. Day after day, week after week, for more than four years, she had to choose faith. And she did.
Finally, last spring, they went to mediation, and the result was a settlement to cover all the liens for David’s medical bills, all the savings they had spent, the money they had borrowed, and enough to pay for David’s ongoing physical therapy. The years that the locusts had eaten had been restored.
At Christmas, Lexie and David gave their children a World Vision catalog and told them they could choose anything in it. They poured over that catalog and gleefully gave goats and mosquito nets, sheep and clothing.
“We received and received and received for so many years,” Lexie told the woman from World Vision, “and now finally we were in a place where we could give, and give generously.”
When Lexie recounted this conversation to me, her face was alight with joy, the joy of someone who knows what a gift it is to be able to give.
I love this story. I love it because it captures the heart of the Lenten discipline of almsgiving, or charity—and that heart is joy. For some reason, we tend to drag our spiritual feet when it comes to giving. It feels very much like a duty, and an onerous one. I do wonder if that is because most of us do not realize how very much we’ve been given. Lexie, on the other hand, knew what it was to be always on the receiving end of others’ generosity, so when she had the chance to be generous herself, she leaped at it with alacrity and joy.
We are still in the season of Lent, a season traditionally characterized by three disciplines: fasting, repentance, and almsgiving. Last month, I wrote about how the Lenten practice of repentance flows from the practice of fasting. In a similar way, the Lenten practice of almsgiving (or we could simply say giving) flows from the practice of repentance.
In fasting, we stop reaching for the thing we habitually reach for to comfort or succor or numb us, and in the silence (and probably the disorientation!) of that vacuum, we can finally hear God calling our names, calling us to turn our faces toward Jesus—in other words, to repent. “Sin,” writes Simone Weil, “is not a distance from God, but a turning of our faces in the wrong direction,” and we all of us live in some area or other of our hearts with our backs turned to God. Repentance is the act of turning around.
The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, has the same prefix as metamorphosis, transformation. Repentance and transformation are related terms: repentance orients our lives toward God; transformation orients our lives in God.
When we live facing God, we begin to see ourselves clearly—and what we see is how very unlike God we are, how very, well, sinful. But we also see how very much He loves us: “see what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).
As we turn and turn and turn again, facing each area of our lives Godward (repentance), God removes our transgressions from us until we are purified and sanctified (transformed!) and remade in the image of Christ. As this transformation occurs, says Oswald Chambers, “you will never cease to be the most amazed person on earth at what God has done for you on the inside.”
What God has done for you.
From repentance flows the amazed realization of what God has done and is doing for us all the time. Forgiveness is a gift. Transformation is a gift. This life we’ve been given in Christ—is all gift. And when we realize just how much we’ve been given, the practice of giving moves from the realm of duty to the realm of delight, as it was for Lexie and her family.
Lexie knows what it is to receive in abundance, and so she was able—and eager!—to give in abundance. As we continue our journey through Lent I pray we will all know, deep in the marrow of our souls, the boundless generosity of God.
There are only two weeks left before Easter. How has your Lenten fast unfolded? Have you been surprised by what has bubbled to the surface in the silence? Have you been able to rest in the easy yoke of Jesus and hear His song of love for you?
PS: The Reading Plan
- April 4th: Kimberlee Conway Ireton
- April 11th Chapters 6 and 7 in Invitations From God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
- April 18th Chapters 8 and 9
- April 25th Chapters 10 and 11