“Charity begins at home.” It’s a popular phrase, isn’t it? I never gave it too much thought before (and, to be honest, sometimes looked at it as being an excuse to avoid giving), but this week changed all that. I did a little web research before writing this, just to see where the idiom came from–not entirely sure, still, though I found out there is some biblical backup. In the New Testament, 1 Timothy 5:8 says “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The “especially” clause was interesting–I wouldn’t feel challenged in the slightest by the “own household” business (everybody who lives in the Giver house is provided for, and in fact has way more than they need), but as for the preceding “relatives,” well, it did get me thinking that maybe I’ve occasionally chosen to ignore the needs of family members in other places.
My brother, in particular, has been having a hard time of things lately. Like many of our relatives (myself included), he struggles to maintain mental health. Unfortunately, we have a strong genetic history of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and even suicide in our family. Maintaining employment and an ideal independent living arrangement have always been difficult for him. Recently, unable to keep up with his rent, he had to once again return to living with our mother. I still have a lot of hope for his future, and he seems to as well–but so often, life seems so painfully hard for him. We couldn’t have been any closer growing up; he’s only fifteen months my junior, and we were best friends and constant companions all throughout our childhood. As we’ve found our own ways to battle the demons of our shared past, we’ve somehow both grown apart and remained steadfastly close in the years that have followed. He still makes me laugh like no one else can, and he’s an amazing uncle and a dedicated father to his young son. We’ll have our long talks from time to time, but often it’s hard for me to know how to help him.
And so we come to this week’s gift. One of the changes we wanted to make to 52 times 52 in the new year was to involve our three children in the giving process. They were largely ignorant of our project in 2011 (we only made occasional mention of it, and never spilled the full details), but we started to realize that as parents, we were learning lessons from our giving that weren’t so easily passed onto the kids in the absence of open, honest discussion about money.
Over the weekend, we sat them down and told them everything. We tried to draw analogies to their own lives, to the prices of toys and games, the cost of food and other necessities, the fact that $52 could buy them the latest Wii game or feed a starving person in a developing country for a month. My middle son immediately went to the shelves that hold their Wii games and told me which ones we should sell to feed the hungry. Naturally, he picked the games they played least–we then talked about the difference between giving something that’s easy to give and giving something that’s hard to give (like the games they look forward to playing each Friday night). We talked and we talked. It was a beautiful conversation, and in many ways I’m sorry we didn’t have it sooner.
However, when the conversation turned to where we might give the first $52 of 2012, we put the decision in our kids’ laps. They thought in silence for a moment, and then my oldest son said a single word: my brother’s name. It was like his hand had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart–hard.
We spent some time thinking about the best way $52 could help him, and we ultimately decided that a gas card would be best. He’s often unable to make long trips (including trips to visit us) because of want for gas money. Other ideas popped up–new basketball shoes so he could better protect his injured knees while playing his favorite sport, rent money to help out our mother, or a new cell phone, as he’d recently lost one–but in the end the gift of traveling freedom seemed the most appropriate. I held back tears as all three of the kids talked about the needs that they could see so clearly in his life; needs that, as I say, I have often chosen to ignore.
I can see already that we have a lot to learn from our children, and that involving them in 52 times 52 for 2012 is unquestionably the right decision. I hope that you will join the Giver children this week in considering the needs of your relatives, and perhaps giving accordingly if a need makes itself clear to you.
And thank you, so much, to the new givers joining us in 2012 as well as the ones who’ve been with us since the beginning. I hope you join me in excitedly looking forward to what this new year will hold in store for all of us.
If you’re giving alongside us this week, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.