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Offers Not for the Coffers


Giving is such a slippery slope, isn’t it? If we give once, we worry that we’ll be expected to give again even if that isn’t our intention. If we give generously, those to whom we give might think we’re looking for something in return. If we give to this one and not to that one, we’re accused of playing favorites or of being stingy. If we give what we lovingly choose as an expression of ourselves, others may criticize our choice. Seldom is a gift seen as simply a gift.

Too easily we think of gifts as monetary things. We purchase gifts. We give gift cards. We donate online or write a check. We scan the gift registry for something we can afford. We consider giving only after expenses have been covered. We look for charitable organizations to which to give to receive a tax write-off. In our heads, gifts involve finances. But when we step away from the ATM at which we view our lives as financial transactions, we realize that we surrender much in life that doesn’t come with a monetary price tag. Not all offers are for the coffers.

What do we offer? Our presence means more than we might realize. Showing up for an important event in someone else’s life or in the life of our community speaks volumes. Being by the bedside of a loved one affords comfort and peace beyond words. And our words can be gifts as well. Support. Advice. Encouragement. Love. Working alongside others is another marvelous gift we might offer. Preparing meals or assembling bags of food or picking up litter or decorating an outdoor site or sprucing up a community garden… there may be any number of opportunities to give of our time and our labor in service to others. Listening is another generous gift we may give that doesn’t involve money, just keeping our mouths shut. And the list could go on and on. Not all we offer goes into the coffers!

Poet Mary Oliver is known for her poignant question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is an inquiry that drills down through the layers of our frenetic busyness to uncover ultimate intention, primary purpose, core of being. Because the life we have been given is indeed an impossibly incalculable thing, an unspeakably fragile thing, an outrageously undeserved thing. Do we offer it? To whom and to what end? Consider: who we are, what we do with who we are, is both costly and priceless.

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