Please, Don't Give Me Your Leftovers
Personal experience tells the tale
By Rebecca Oates, Baptist World Aid
There's nothing like acts of generosity--the kind that cost you little--to feel good about yourself at Christmas.
Not long ago I came home to a Christmas hamper at our door. I immediately fell to the ground and wept, grateful that some anonymous soul had thought to love us enough, even from a distance, to deliver tinned ham and out of date shortbread to our family.
Once I had recovered from my outburst of appreciation, I lugged the hamper inside to unpack the contents in the cupboard. (Imagine me in my spotless kitchen with my hair on point!)
It's no surprise that during said-unpacking of no brand groceries, a lively dialogue was swirling in my head: "Why does my chest hurt? Why does this anonymous hamper feel like an act of cowardice and unfriendliness? Why am I such an ungrateful cow?"
We had just returned from India having sold our whole lives in Australia, and a few groceries were helpful, for sure. Someone had obviously observed our colossal heartache and failure, and thought we needed to be . . . blessed.
They were well-meaning, no doubt. But what I really needed was someone to sit with me, to ask me if I was okay, to cry with me, to pray with me. Someone to know me.
Besides, anyone who knows me would not have included Diet Coke in the hamper!
I wondered, do we really care what people want or need? Or do we care about feeling good about our generosity?
Do we really care what people want or need? Or do we care about feeling good about our generosity?
Pizza and Generosity?
The question, though, took me immediately to the time I gave leftover pizza to a woman living on the streets of Kolkata, India, with her newborn baby.
My family had filled our stomachs at a pizza restaurant, but there were a few slices left. I don't want to boast, but we decided we could give the left over slices we had to someone in need. We were newly arrived and trying to figure out how best to navigate our Christian service in this new place. This was the least we could do.
So, we carried our pizza box all the way home because we knew there was a woman who lived in the gutter with her family just outside our house.
Or was it Pizza and Dismay?
We found her, a baby swaddled in a dirty rag and children playing in the gutter. Warmly, we presented her with three slices of leftover pizza. She accepted. And I admit, it felt good. Surely, this was what Jesus would do.
She sat there with a box made out of the same cardboard as her home and fed pizza to her children. But when I smiled triumphantly and turned my back to escort my family home, I couldn't help wondering how she felt.
I wanted to be 'generous' on my own terms. I had decided what she needed. And it hadn't cost me anything. I admit, too, I didn't really want to know her, even though she lived near us.
Now looking back, I think giving leftover pizza was a selfish act, hurtful even.
I wish I had done anything but patronise her. Because sometimes our helping hurts
And as I remember that woman's face, I wish, more than anything, I had taken time to sit with her in the gutter, to ask if she was okay, to cry with her, to pray with her. I wish I had done anything but patronise her. Because sometimes our helping hurts.
This Christmas, I think it's time to stop believing that giving "things" to those in need is the answer. Rather than feeling good about our generosity, I believe God wants us to know each other, sit with one another and check in on each other, no matter where we live.
When we do, we'll glimpse what it means to know God better.
After spending time in India with her family, Bec Oates moved to Sydney, and is now the Director of Marketing and Communication at Baptist World Aid.
READ MORE: ADVANCE | step by step, December 2020 >>>