by Jennifer Mills-Knutsen
Scripture: Matthew 6:2-4
“Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”
Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, and so is Ash Wednesday (February 17). You might think these two had absolutely nothing in common, but there is a connection: secret gift-giving. Valentine’s Day is when some people choose to express their love for someone by being a “secret admirer,” delivering a card or gift of love and affection without signing their name. Ash Wednesday is when we read the scripture above, encouraging us to give generously to those in need without disclosing that we are their generous benefactors. While secret admirers may just be too shy to admit their affections, secret givers are supposed to maintain anonymity because the gift itself is not about our glory or praise—it is about serving God.
When we give without acknowledgement, in secret, we are showing that our gift is not about us. We are not hoping our gift will win someone’s heart, or get them to give us something in return, or make people look at us as wealthy or generous or important. We are simply hoping that the recipient of the gift knows that they are loved. We are hoping God’s love and compassion are made known.
-Have you ever received a gift without knowing who or where it came from? How did it make you feel?
-Have you ever given a gift because you wanted to get something in return—maybe another gift, maybe getting someone to say “yes” to something? Did you get what you wanted? The scripture says, “you have your reward.”
Contrast that with a time you gave something away with no return or recognition. Which one is more memorable?
Find a way to practice giving in secret. As a family, think of some folks who could use a little help, whether they are poor in spirit or poor in health or poor in financial resources. Plot a way to help.
Here’s a fun idea to try: Send anonymous Valentines. Think of neighbors, elderly friends, people who’ve recently suffered a loss. If your family likes crafts, haul out the pink and purple and red paper, glue, glitter and markers. If your family strongly dislikes crafts (like mine!), go to the store and buy a box of kids’ Valentine cards. Who wouldn’t smile at receiving a Spiderman or Spongebob or Elsa from Frozen card in the mail, with some terrible pun about love? Write a simple message like, “Jesus loves you and so do I” or “God’s love is everywhere, all the time!” and drop the card in the mail or leave it on the door when no one’s home.
Dear God, you love us so much and give us everything we have. Teach us to love and give like you do. Help us to give in ways that don’t show off or expect something in return, but ways that point to you and your love. Amen.