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To Give Or Not To Give?

 Lately, I have been focusing on almsgiving. It’s one of the calls of Lent, prayer, penance, and almsgiving.  We are taught that giving should come freely from the heart. I don’t know about you, but whenever I am confronted with a situation where I am asked to donate money, whether it’s a request from my church, an organization, or someone on the side of the road, I am always conflicted. My heart is very willing when I am asked to share what God has given me. I am ready to give but my mind always kicks in with a multitude of questions of whether I should give or not.   


Let me explain. We have all had the experience of stopping at a traffic light in our car and a person standing on the side of the road with a sign asking for money. We are faced with a decision.  For me, this is where all of the questions begin.


Do I give or don’t give the person money? My heart says yes.  Yet, my mind questions, “Is this just a scam?”  “Will they use the money for drugs or alcohol?”  “If I’m going to give, then how much should I give?”  “If I’m not giving, what will I do?”  “Will I turn my head in the other direction to seem as though I don’t notice the person?”  “Will I nod my head in acknowledgment but wave no to the person?” “Will I feel guilty later, If I don’t give, or be OK with it?”


So many logical questions running through my mind in such a short moment in time. This scenario of questioning occurs whether it’s someone on the side of the road, a homeless person on the streets, or someone sitting outside of a McDonald's restaurant appearing hungry and begging for some money.    


Some years ago, when my job transferred me to Houston and before my family moved with me, I was traveling each weekend back and forth from Texas and Louisiana.  On Friday afternoons I would begin my drive home and there was a corner I had to pass to get onto the highway.   Every week a man stood on the corner with a sign that said, “Homeless, need money for food.” Now the traffic lights were timed so when I got to the corner, the light would turn red. The first week this happened, I took out some money and gave it to the man. I figured he was placed in my path for a reason, and I should respond with the generosity of what God had given to me. After all, I had just received a promotion, by the grace of God, and I should give back.


Subsequently, the man was at the corner every Friday afternoon.  I gave money on weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. As I got in the car on the 6th Friday to go home, I began to hesitate and question whether I should continue to give to the man. I looked in my wallet, but I only had twenty-dollar bills. Nothing smaller. I was conflicted. My mind raced with questioning whether to give or not to give. Was this a scam? After all, he was there every Friday. Part of me figured I should trust God and give but part of me began to feel as though I was being taken advantage of.    


I decided to take the twenty-dollar bill out of my wallet and put it in my car console, ready to hand to that man. I then told God, “I am willing to give the money, but Lord if this is a scam, please don’t let the man be there on the corner when I stop so I know for sure what to do.” Five minutes later, as I came to the corner, the man was nowhere in sight! God had answered my prayer loudly.  However, I did not feel as though the money I had given previously was in error. I had listened to my heart to give and then gave it over to God. If it’s a scam, just give the money.  Let the scam be between God and the person.


I learned to ask God whether to give or not give in each situation. Oddly enough since then, when I have not given, it’s been because the light turned too fast for me to give the money, or the person has gone to another car. God seems to work it out.


A couple of weekends ago I had what I call a “God incident”.  At the beginning of mass, there was an announcement that a special collection would be taken up at the offertory for an organization that I often support. My heart most definitely was saying “yes”, and I took out some money, put it in my pocket, ready for the second collection basket to pass. Only at the offertory, the second basket never came.  


I was a bit confused, thinking maybe I heard incorrectly, and I quickly placed the money back in my wallet. I turned my attention back to the scripture readings and prayers and put the thought out of my mind. Quite unexpectedly at the end of mass, the ushers came forward with a basket for the second collection. I was flustered and quickly scrambled to retrieve the money.  When I opened my wallet, I couldn’t find where I put the bills I had taken out earlier. As I was digging, the basket was handed to me. Not being ready, I hesitated in trying to figure out the amount to give. Then I heard in my heart, “Just give it all.” I paused, questioning, should I do that? Again, I heard in my heart, “Just give it all!”.  And so, I did.  I took all of the cash out of my wallet and dropped it in the basket.


I sat back and said, “OK God, I did it.  I just gave it all.”


Then my humanness kicked in. It was a lot more money than I normally give on unexpected donation requests. It wasn’t going to break the bank, yet I had sudden reservations about whether I should have given it all


Satan swooped right in turning my trust into doubt. I began to worry about what my husband's reaction would be. I would have to tell him I gave away all my cash and would need more. I knew he wouldn’t be angry.   He always wants me to have some cash in case of an emergency. Then I began questioning myself.   Was I too hasty and did I give too much? Now I began to feel anxious and concerned that maybe my husband would think I was foolish. So many thoughts swirling around in my mind. I realized that Satan was stirring up doubt and anxiety where it shouldn’t be.


I just stopped and told God, I know what I heard and felt in my heart. I gave it all and I am turning this over to you. Now it’s up to you to take care of this. There, it was done.


I was volunteering in the gift shop directly after church.   As I opened the doors for the customers, a friend of mine walked up to me and handed me cash. She said she was reimbursing me for conference tickets I purchased for her and her husband.  It was a church event we were attending together. I had completely forgotten all about it! I was blown away! I do not believe in coincidences. I call this a “God Incident”.


I instantly understood in that moment to always trust God. He immediately provided for me after giving away freely to Him. He was loud and clear in His generous timing. I am convinced He wanted me to know He always answers my prayers big or small. I learned that I can never outgive God and that maybe, just maybe, I should try.  He may be using me as an instrument to help someone else.


Whenever we give, we must discern if our giving is the wise thing to do.  However, when we discern, we must do so with God’s help. Lent is a time to teach us this discernment so that we can go forward throughout the year involving God in our almsgiving.


Today, let us be thankful for all the blessings God gives us. Let us recognize that being able to give is a gift from God and it doesn’t matter how big or small the amount. Let us trust God and look for His “God Incidents” and perfect timing in our lives.


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