As I retrieved my Cappuccino and turned to walk to my table, I caught a glimpse of a man wiping down tables with paper napkins. He was an older gentleman dressed in shabby black trousers and an equally shabby coat zipped up to his neck. It appeared that he had at least two shirts on under the coat – he was dressed for the cold weather. The clothes were threadbare and looked as if they might have been worn for several days.
I had stopped into my favorite coffee shop/bookstore for a warm beverage and quality “me” time. As I sipped my coffee I looked up at him again as he continued around to all of the unoccupied tables wiping them off. At first, I wondered if he was an employee but he certainly didn’t look like the other young millennial employees busy taking orders and pressing the steam button while making fancy coffee at the espresso machine. He looked much more like someone you would see on the street; maybe even homeless. I went back to my coffee and magazine and after a few minutes, I saw him again. As he walked by a table he stopped briefly and placed something on the table. He walked down each row doing the same thing to all of the occupied tables. As he passed he silently placed something on my table. I looked up and saw that it was a shiny nickel. Before I could figure out what had happened and raise my head to say thank you he was gone. He didn’t linger at any table or make eye contact. He was not looking for someone to talk to or seeking gratification for what he was doing. I watched him walk by the last three tables and then he went on his way. I continued to look around for him but he was gone and I never saw him again.
As I picked up the nickel, the words “random acts of kindness” entered my brain and my heart. I looked around and the young girl at the next table looked at me with the same kind of quizzical look in her eyes. I just smiled and began to notice how other recipients were responding to this simple, yet amazing gesture. I observed one couple sitting at a corner table while they laughed and rolled their eyes and seemed to make fun of the simple act. Some ignored it while others seemed to have the same reaction that I did – that of wonder and amazement at how special a simple act of kindness – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – could be. This man, who had little, gave what he could in action and money?
I was reminded of the woman in the Bible that was observed by Jesus. She was a widow who, at that time, held a very low position with no source of income and little hope. Jesus sat watching people go by and insert their offering in the receptacle, which was probably a large pottery jar. He saw rich people insert great sums of money and then the widow insert two coins. These copper coins were about 1/128th of a denarius which was a day’s wage for a laborer. Jesus was amazed at this and told his disciples that “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box, for they all contributed out of their abundance but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44) Throughout scripture, God’s people are instructed to take care of orphans and widows. They were the marginalized of the culture with no family and no means of support. I think this simple story of just 4 verses is disproportionally profound in meaning and scope. Ann Voskamp reflects on this passage saying that
“When we give, we too often give only what ensures that we don’t lose comfort or control. But when the widow gave her mites, she gave not only her money but her marrow. She gave away not only her comfort but her control. She gave till she had to trust God.”
This truth not only applies to the giving of our income but also to the giving of our time, our gifts, and our love. As a society, we are so obsessed with comfort and control that we protect them vehemently. Just look at our beds for example. We spend a great deal on just the right mattress, sheets, and pillows. Some mattresses promise a good night’s sleep and lack of pain and even protect against your spouse by offering different levels of firmness to help with snoring. Walk down the pillow aisles (yes usually more than one) of a home store to see the offerings of firmness, stuffing material, and shape. I won’t even mention the sheets in their varying thread count. Now don’t get me wrong I have strong opinions about what gives me the greatest comfort and therefore the best night’s sleep but I just mention this to point out that we like to be comfortable. From our housing, furnishings, cars, and vacations much of our time and money is spent in the pursuit of comfort. This isn’t wrong as long as we see it in perspective. Giving our money to our church, mission organization, or charitable organization may impact our comfort. Moreover, the time that we give in service may impact what we are used to in free time or the comforts of home if we pursue mission trips. Using our gifts for God’s glory may also require the loss of comfort and especially control. I believe that God gave me the ability to write but many times I do not share what I write because I worry about what others will think — my grammar is not perfect, my wording is not as well crafted as other writers that I admire, someone may not agree with my opinions and beliefs —- sharing my writing means sharing my soul (wow that sounded melodramatic) and to do so I have to trust that God will use and direct my writing and use it to encourage others. I’m sure you can identify with me in some way. I struggle with this because I struggle with trusting God but I find that He continues to remind me of this fact and pulls me out of my comfort zone.
I finished up my coffee and magazine and started to leave – I noticed on the table next to me – where the young girl who I had made eye contact with after seeing our coins had been sitting. In the middle of her table, she had placed a clean napkin with her nickel placed in the middle of the napkin. I held mine in my hand wondering if I should do the same but decided to keep it as a reminder to extend kindness to others even if it meant a loss of comfort or control.
A funny thing happened as I waited for Rick to pick me up; everyone I ran into had a smile on their face and kind words. Could they have received a nickel as well or had I just gotten out of myself to make eye contact and speak to people? So often we just go through our activities wrapped up in our little world that we forget how many people could benefit from a smile, a kind word, an intentional act, or even a random act of kindness.
There is no way I can know where this gentleman’s motivation came from but my guess is that he loved his Lord and wanted to please him. This desire was stronger than the embarrassment of being in a place where he was perceived as not belonging. It was stronger than the risk of sneers over his humble act of service and his small gifts. This kind of desire could come from the spirit of God and the hope of eternity living in his soul.
I think about myself sitting at the table enjoying my expensive cup of coffee and withdrawing into my shell of comfort while wanting to shut out those around me. I’m an introvert so this can be my happy place. I continue to remember this man, who just like the widow, gave a gift that transcended comfort and control and find encouragement to use my gifts, time, and money to encourage others, even if it means looking up from my coffee to offer a smile.
My prayer today is that my love would increase, with the power of God and the hope of my salvation, so that I might be worthy of the shiny nickel placed on my table.