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I find myself standing in the chill of the dairy case, comparing unit prices of butter. I’m not out of butter. I have half a pound of it in the fridge. But the kind in the fridge is the cultured, organic kind that I have to drive to the natural food store to buy. It’s the Good Stuff. It’s the stuff for my family. What I’m baking isn’t for my family, at least not the family that I share a house with.

I notice that the store brand is on sale. Sweet! “Thanks, God,” I murmur, not even realizing the irony of thanking Him for something that is helping me to excuse my way out of serving Him the best I have to offer.

At home I pull out an overgrown zucchini from the garden. “Thanks, God,” I think, “for this opportunity to make good use of something that’s useless.” I switch on the food processor and watch the blade turn, turning zucchini into shreds. Why was I feeling such heaviness over an opportunity to be a blessing? Why was I grumbling and sighing and complaining over this invitation to be a servant? I know this one by heart, because we have drilled it into our childrens’ heads over morning oatmeal:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for God not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

I crack eggs into the mixing bowl, calculating their cost, wondering if I can get away with using some cornstarch instead of an egg. I switch on the mixer and watch the paddle rotate, around and around. And I feel my heart being turned within me.

I see myself standing in the cramped, stainless steel kitchen, early morning sunlight streaming over me, first customers straggling in for morning coffee and still-warm scones. Anissa looks at the sticky, gooey bowls stacked high in the deep sink–she pauses, looks at me with her eyebrows scrunched up together in the middle.

“There’s another brownie left in this bowl! Why in the world didn’t you scrape it clean??” I shrug my shoulders, mumble something about trying to get things out in time. But I am wounded. Yes, of course I should have scraped the bowl better, how silly of me. Of course, you’re right, and yes, I’ll do better next time. Yes, money is tight, you’re barely getting by, every brownie counts. Yes, tomorrow I will scrape the bowl clean.

And I do. Even now. I pour my batter into the loaf pan, scrape down the sides until every last drop is out. Nothing left to dip fingers into and lick with joyful abandon. No gooey beaters to hand to hopeful kiddos to lick clean.

When did I lose my joy in baking? At what point did I start missing the delight I got from watching someone bite into something I had made, close their eyes and smile softly and say “Mmm…”? When did I start seeing sharing my food with others as a burden, as an imposition on My Time and My Money and My Resources? When did the girl who didn’t think it was worth her time to scrape the last brownie out of the bowl, turn into the woman who scrapes out every last speck?

I put the loaf pan into the oven and set the timer, turn my attention to the pile of dirty dishes waiting by the sink.

I do not deny that this is a lean season in our home. Most months we end up with more month than money. I have read “budget cooking” cookbooks searching for any dollar-stretching tips that I’ve overlooked, only to throw them down in disgust when all they say is to “Give up my once-a-week dinner out.” If you were to advise us to give up something, tell me, would it be the beans or the rice?

At times I have considered hanging a placard in our dining room proclaiming Proverbs 15:17

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Proverbs 15:17

I hadn’t really lost sight of my thankfulness. And I hadn’t forgotten to whom I owed that thankfulness. And I wasn’t really complaining about having to eat vegetables instead of a fattened calf, because we always had enough. And as Ma Ingalls says “Enough is as good as a feast.” As far as feeding my own family was concerned, I considered myself pretty thankful for the things I was able to put on the table.

The trouble came when I was asked to share food, or even worse, to give it away. This was when my hands snapped shut, holding tightly onto what we had. How could I give away food, when we were going beyond our means just to feed ourselves? What if there’s not enough? What if we run out? What if the cupboard is bare?

I don’t underestimate the value of breaking bread together, or of giving away bread when it is needed. I have been on the receiving end of many a well-timed meal to know that this is important work.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James 2:16

Please don’t mishear me. Of course we are asked to be good stewards of our resources, which include our time and our food. And of course my first obligation is in feeding my own family before feeding others. My struggle is finding the balance. Where is the middle road? Somewhere in between the girl who washes all the extra batter in the bowl down the drain and the girl who scrapes the bottom to make sure she got it all is the girl who lightly scrapes the bowl and still leaves enough behind for the little ones to lick.

Surely there is a way to live generously with open hands, without flinging everything you own out to anyone who can snatch it first.

I grow weary of the washing, remove my gloves and pile the remaining dishes into the dishwasher. I remember how my friend, Sharon, likes to talk about how God “does the dishes” for us. We close the door on our dirty dishes, start the dishwasher and go about our business while the dishwasher is doing the work. I have to remind myself, in my quest for spiritual insight, to close the door. To go about my business and let God do the dishes. He shows me in His time.

I wish I could write this from the other side and tell you how I have learned to open my hands, even when it seems like I’m giving away my own sustenance. But, friends, I am still in the trenches on this one. I know that God has something to say to me on this topic.

So tell me, how are you able to live with open hands? How are you able to live generously in these selfish times? I would be delighted to have you slip your thoughts on the matter into the comments, so that we may sharpen one another.