I learned a lot about grace and generosity in the real world from kids and bags of grapes.
The kids who showed me how I could practice grace and accept generosity more graciously attend an after-school tutoring program hosted by a Christian ministry. About once a month during the school year, my husband and I serve dinner to the 40 or so kids in this program at the ministry’s facility, a beautiful restoration-in-progress home in an inner-city neighborhood.
I plan dinners with generosity in mind
We recruit and organize volunteers from our church to help with the meal prep, serving, and clean-up. I plan the meals for efficiency but hope that food quality indicates love and generosity.
Typically, the menu consists of chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese, grapes or apples, carrots or cucumbers, and cookies. Oh yeah, there’s also Texas Pete’s hot sauce, ranch dressing, ketchup, and sugary lemonade. These aren’t my favorites but it’s what the kids crave.
I’m not a huge fan of chicken nuggets but since the kids prefer breaded over marinated chicken, I buy them. Before our first dinner there, I researched the types of nuggets available and established specifications. Only real chicken breast meat will do, not breaded bits and pieces.
In regard to the grapes, apples, etc., I buy and serve only what I would eat myself. I want the kids to know that they’re worth the cost — though I should add that my small groups’ ministry budget foots the bill. So while I may seem generous, I’m merely a conduit for the generosity. Our focus on quality seems to be recognized and appreciated.
Extras are bonuses for anyone who asks
At the same time that we buy the good stuff, we buy too much of it. I’m obsessive about having enough food so we plan for 40 and buy for 50. At the end of the evening, we distribute leftovers in a disorderly fashion.
First, we control portions to make sure all the kids get fed. Next, we serve seconds and thirds and even fourths. When everyone is finished going through our short cafeteria-style serving line, we pack up what’s left. We put the extras in individually-sized containers, typically sandwich-sized bags. Some kids see us putting together bags and ask to take one home.
If any food isn’t claimed, I offer bags explicitly. Here’s when things become chaotic and grace, revealed.
In the incident that I’m recalling, the kids are assembled in the living room, getting ready to go home when I offer bags of grapes. Several kids, not just one or two, express their interest. My generous act turns problematic when I don’t have as many bags to give away as there are kids clamoring for one.
The kids don’t complain when they don’t get their fair share
Here’s what happened: the kids who didn’t get a bag accepted what happened and after a brief moment of disappointment, they move on. Yep, this incident was a non-incident. Yet, I marveled not only at the bag-free kids’ kindness to me but also their kindness to the kids who got a take-home bag.
I mentioned this occurrence to the mission worker, the head of the ministry. She affirmed that this behavior is typical and attributed it to the kids’ respect of adults. Honestly, I anticipated these kids would behave in this way, not throwing fits but accepting my decision. So I felt emboldened. If I had worried that there would be trouble, even one accusation of unfairness, I wouldn’t have freely offered our extras.
Still, I reflected on the ministry leader’s words. I came to understand that, indeed, the kids valued adults like me as much as (or maybe more than) their own needs and wants. But I wondered if, in addition, they had a better understanding of grace or more practical understanding of grace.
Among the kids and grownups I know, including me, we tend to make claims like Sally Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas movie in some circumstances. Remember what Sally says?: “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
seems is reasonable to speak up, to speak out, to ask for a turn, to be like Sally sometimes. But requests can turn irrational when I demand more, not because of a genuine need but a desire to feel validated with more than enough.
Grace and generosity aren’t fair
The bags-of-grapes incident reminds me of another grape story, the one about the vineyard owner. In this story, Jesus tells us about a man who hired laborers at different times of the day and paid them in agreed-upon amounts. When the laborers who worked all day found out those who worked just an hour got the same pay, they became angry. The laborers weren’t upset because they were cheated, at least that’s my take. Instead, they were upset because they resisted the idea that generosity and grace, by definition, isn’t fair.
During the the days of the early Christian community, believers seemed to understand this new way of thinking. Here’s how people were sharing as told in Acts 4:32-35 (World English Bible):
The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.
The early Christians had what they needed, just like the kids who were fed and offered seconds.
That night, in the hallway as I handed out baggies of fruits and veggies, I realized that those kids seemed to understand the practical side of grace. It’s not something to incite arguments over perceived and real unfairness. Grace and generosity are expressions of love to gladly accept.
What about you? Have you ever felt cheated because you didn’t receive generosity? Is it difficult to accept that other people receive grace?