For the past few weeks, the centerpiece on our dining room table has been the CRS Lenten Rice Bowl. Â I remember it fondly from my own childhood: a cardboard box for collecting change and bills to help needy people in various places around the world. Â Shortly after we got it, the boys went into their rooms and emptied all the coins from their respective china piggy banks to give to the poor. Â â€œLook, Luke!” I overhead Matthew say, pointing to the pictures of the children on the side of the Rice Bowl. Â â€œWe’re helping her, and her, and him.” Â The giving up of their change generated a great deal of excitement. Â It did my mom-heart good.
Then just the other morning, I came out of the kitchen and Matthew said, “Mom! Â I counted, and I have sixteen dollars.”
“In my piggy bank.” Â I looked on the coffee table, and there was his china piggy bank, the one given to him at his christening. Â Over the years, small bills have been tucked in there from time to time — by my mom, or by me, or occasionally by Matthew when we give him a random dollar. Â The rubber plug on the bottom of the piggy bank was out, and the bills were lying on the table.
“That’s great, Matthew,” I told him. Â â€œBe sure to tuck them back in so they don’t get lost.”
Instead, he took the bills to the dining room table and spread them out. Â As I sat and watched, he pulled the Rice Bowl towards him. Â He took a dollar bill and folded it very carefully in half, and then again, until it was small enough to put into the cardboard bank.
“Oh, you’re giving some more money,” I said. Â â€œThat’s so nice of you, Matthew.”
“I’m going to put all of it in the Rice Bowl,” he said. Â And as I watched, he took another bill, folded it, and pushed it through the slot.
I am ashamed to admit this, but I almost stopped him. Â Don’t you want to keep some of it for yourself? Â I almost said. Â If you keep half of it, you’ll still have eight dollars to use for something you really want to buy. Â You don’t need to give all of it to the poor. Â That money has been there for years, in his china piggy bank. Â At various times he has taken it out and looked at it, but he’s never spent any of it. Â And I thought of the things — new toys, books, or heck, even college tuition — that he could spend it on.
But I said nothing. Â Because in a moment of sudden clarity, I realized that there is only one way to respond Â in the face of Â such innocent generosity, and that is to let it happen.Â In that moment, I also realized how much I need to learn from my own child.
He folded every bill and inserted each one carefully into the cardboard box. Â I stood with my arm around him and hoped he wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes. Â I am not sure how I could have explained those tears to him. Â I’m not sure how I could have said that I had almost, with my cautious adult pragmatism, disrupted the flow of a spontaneous act of pure goodness.
Jesus said that unless we change and become like little children, we won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. Â I keep edging closer to understanding what that means.Â It doesn’t mean that God will keep us out.Â I think it means that we adults have a tendency to keep ourselves out.Â We need children to show us what we’ve lost … and what we can regain.