Yesterday, I wrote about an experiment my wife and I started several years back, and how it took off faster than expected.
I couldn’t believe my luck. All I’d wanted was to promote a little generosity in the midst of isolated individualism. Maybe even counter a bit of mindless consumption and make people think a little about the insane pursuit of product-driven happiness. I wanted people to experiment with a life of gifts rather than a life of greed. All that seemed to be happening to some extent, plus a little friendship on the side.
But then came the “grandmother incident.”
On that day a woman logged into the website and posted a need for a “surrogate grandmother.” A surrogate grandmother! She and her husband, it seems, had recently moved into the area and didn’t know anyone. A few months before, she’d given birth to twins, whose early delivery had complicated their health. Without a network of support, the couple was simply overwhelmed. So, on this site where people had been happily exchanging floor lamps and toaster ovens, here is what she wrote:
HI! As the mother of twin girls with medical issues, I need a surrogate grandma or just a good friend. Is there someone out there with a kind and patient heart who has a few hours a week during the day that they would like to spend playing with 2 little darlings or helping me tackle a few big projects???
Within days an older woman responded. Herself the mother of three grown boys who’d all moved out of state, this older woman felt drawn to the young woman’s needs and was ready to help. They arranged to meet. Got know each other, and a kind of kinship grew. Soon the older woman was babysitting, helping with hospital visits, and offering advice. And to my utter amazement something far deeper than mere gratitude or friendship has grown between them – they’d formed a family.
That’s when I realized a life of gifts is about more than lamps and toasters. It’s about trust and love. In a culture where people are defined by conspicuous accumulation, ordinary stuff tends to dead-end in someone’s closet or garage. Like Manna that has been hoarded it eventually rots, becoming the symbol of our stubborn, self-sufficient isolation.
Yet true gifts never rest. They move freely from one to another shifting from shape to shape to become the stuff that enriches, nourishes, and sustains the community through an economy of grace and mercy. Sometimes it’s lamps and toasters. Sometimes it’s surrogate grandmothers. But every time, no matter the object, the grace of generosity animates the life of stuff and transforms it into something new and life-giving for all who enter into that new kind of economy.
This is how the economy of God operates. The Spirit is at work ceaselessly among the people of the world imparting gifts of grace and mercy that must be shared – or risk rotting. This is just as true of cash and checks as it is for household goods or friends and family. More than anything else, being missional means joining God in His work. That is exactly the kind of economy America needs now more than ever.