It seemed so simple at first. Give each of my (adult) kids and my husband and I, $25 at Christmas time. $25 with a catch, that is. We each had to spend it on someone else. Someone who had a need. We distributed the $25 on December 1st. We had 25 days to find a worthy cause to give our money towards. And we agreed that on Christmas day we would share with each other where we had given the money.
There were no rules, other than you had to see a need and give the $25 away.
Seemed simple enough.
But what I learned through this process was unexpected and transformative.
I thought I would have no trouble giving my $25 away. I assumed that there is need all around me and that within the first week, the money would be gone. Instead I discovered that I live a truly insulated life. That someone with obvious need, is not constantly in front of me, just waiting to be handed money. I live a comfortable life, surrounded by other people, who even when they struggle, do so, pretty comfortably.
The first couple of weeks went by and I was chill. I was certain that some type of need would present itself to me. So I waited. But nothing appeared. Sure there was the Salvation Army bell ringers…I ran into them every time I went to the grocery store. But I already give to them. I thought about dropping the $25 into the kettle and being done….it’s more than I usually give and I could be done! But no, it seemed too easy.
By week three, I was really paying attention to the world around me. I started to accept the idea that I would need to find a cause to donate to instead of a person to hand the money to. An ad came on TV for the American Cancer Society. I know too many who have lost the battle to cancer. This could be a worthy recipient. But online giving seemed too easy. So I watched and waited.
During week 4, I saw a program on TV about Yemen. The children. The famine. The heartbreak. I did more research on Yemen and was reduced to tears. This was worthy. But $25 seemed so little. Ineffective against all they face. But here’s the irony. Had I not committed that $25 to give away, I wouldn’t have given anything towards Yemen relief. Not a penny. In light of that, I recognized that $25 was pretty good. It still took me till Christmas Eve day to make my decision. Yemen would get the $25.
But getting to Yemen, if you will, was a challenging process. This experience revealed to me how influenced I was by my early years of marriage. With 5 kids and only my husband’s salary, we were broke. When you are broke, giving money away isn’t an option. When we gave, it was usually to a family member in greater need than ourselves. We were, more often than not, the recipients of people’s generosity. They saw our need and gave. We were grateful. And for that and other reasons, we gave back. But with no money to give, we gave our time. And a pattern emerged. Giving my time became part of the fabric of who I was. I was generous with my time and gave freely. Sometimes I gave too much. But I gave my time because it was what I could offer.
Fast forward 30 years and money isn’t so tight. There is extra. Or there could be. But I still behave like there isn’t. Extra money gets funneled towards nice things or helping my kids. Until that $25 showed up. It opened my eyes to the fact that things have changed. Just being able to hand 8 people $25 and say, “give it away’ is an indication that I am no longer broke. So what to do with this new insight?
I recognized that giving to family isn’t bad, but perhaps I needed to expand my idea of family. Those 2 year olds in Yemen, with arms and legs that were pencil thin….my tears were telling me, they are family too. And I find myself heading into the new year with a broader perspective of need. A deeper understanding that I could and should do more. Not just with my time, but with my money too.
As my husband and I gathered with our kids and heard about how they spent their $25, I realized I wasn’t the only one who found the process difficult. So with anything that is difficult, the only solution is to practice until it becomes easier. We will be doing this again next year, though we decided Nov. 1st is a better date to start.
In only 25 days, that $25 gave me a fresh perspective. And it enlarged my heart. Now that’s time and money well spent!