To Give and Not to Count the Cost

Prayer for Generosity - "To give and not to count the cost" line highlighted

We’ve invited our dotMagis bloggers to reflect on the individual lines of the Prayer for Generosity, attributed to St. Ignatius.

My heart always sinks at the line in the Prayer for Generosity, “to give and not to count the cost,” because if I am truly honest with myself, I know I am always calculating the cost. Even if it is unconscious, there are tally marks in my head: Do they need this? Do I need this? Will I need this later? Is it worth it? Will I look silly? What will others think?

I know this is not what God asks of me.

I think of a former neighbor enjoying her morning smoke on the second-story balcony of our shabby apartment building, long ago. It was the first frosty morning of winter, the kind that sneaks up on us. Neighbors, late for work, scraped ice off their windshields, and children walked to school on the sidewalk below.

My morning coffee trance was interrupted by my neighbor yelling to the street below. “What size is your daughter?” She hollered to a woman walking her child to school.

The mother, startled, looked up. “Yeah, you!” My neighbor pointed as the mother and her daughter held their arms, shivering down below in threadbare sweaters. “What size is your daughter?” She repeated her question to the mother, and it is clear the women did not know each other.

“I don’t know,” the mother shouted up. “I think maybe a size 6.”

“Wait there!” my neighbor said, putting out her cigarette and going back into her apartment through the sliding glass door. I heard her thumping down the stairs, reappearing in front of the mother and child, who had surprisingly stayed put. I watched as my neighbor held out a purple puffer jacket, just a little larger than the size of her own daughter, whom I had watched play in the apartment hallways. The women exchanged a few words. My neighbor waved the words away and slid the jacket on the little girl. The mother looked down at the child, who I imagined she reminded to say thank you. The child looked up, standing straighter, and smiled. The mother gave my neighbor a hug, which she received with a strong pat on the woman’s back before waving them both away. My neighbor walked back up the stairs to her apartment.

When she returned to her balcony, she lit another cigarette and sat as if nothing had happened. She didn’t look to see if anyone had witnessed her gesture. She didn’t pick up the phone to share the story with a friend. I watched her pick a few stray bits of lint off her jacket and exhale smoke into the morning mist.

I knew that she was a single mother with two children, one of whom would fit in that coat in a few months. I knew that she struggled in so many areas of her life but not in the way that I struggled. Unlike me, she gave quickly, easily. She didn’t worry if she looked a fool, screaming to a stranger below. She had something to share, so she did.

Lord, teach me to give and not to count the cost.

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  1. I have a new neighbour: a single mother. Yesterday, I talked to her about how wonderful it is to have a neighbour nearby after her house had been vacant for quite a long time. And she looks like a keen gardener.

  2. Beautiful story and offers us much needed reflection. There are saints who walk among us… and just maybe they light up another cigarette and don’t give it a thought because it’s just who they are. Wonderful!

    • Beautiful incident. I have so many clothes to give away, but waiting to give it to the right persons. This incident is an eye opener for me.

  3. The gift of a purple puffer jacket from someone barely eeking out a living. This is not merely giving, it is a sign of selflessness. The part about extinguishing her initial cigarette was also the neighbor’s willingness to give up a simple pleasure, while not counting the cost. I have never been a smoker, but with the price of cigarettes, this, too, was a gift. Thank you for sharing a story of love, of sharing what she could not afford to share, and of putting down a momentary pleasure. We should all try to live as Jesus did.

  4. What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. It provides much food for reflection and personal “reassessment”.
    You are a gifted writer, too, so it was pure joy to read!

  5. Brilliant parable – thank you! Captures for me the essence of christianity. Reminds me of so many of the living saints I have been blessed to encounter and my own struggles to respond thoughtfully (vs calculatingly) to so many situations I encounter each and every day.
    Creator – teach me to give unselfconsciously to others as the woman in this beautiful parable (and this gifted writer) have done. Amen!


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