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.


  1. Through my church I volunteer for an organization called the Midnight Run. The Run coordinates volunteers who deliver food and other supplies to the homeless in NYC. Last Saturday I went down. This is a story about what happened, about giving without worrying about the cost.

    The Midnight Run organization arranges for people to help the volunteers. One person is Alberto, a homeless man himself, who helps to take care of the other people on the street. He does crowd control for us, arranging large turnouts into neat lines, makes sure everyone is wearing a mask and that the mask covers their nose and mouth. He knows where to find people, always has kind words for them, and using his phone sends text messages to others alerting them to where we will be and when to gather. Apparently, for everyone, a cell phone is a necessity.

    We try to thank him by making sure he gets provisions at the end of each run. Though at times, when the crowds are very heavy, he has gone empty handed. Our church supplies turkey and cheese sandwiches. Alberto doesn’t care for turkey and cheese, so for Saturday evening I told him to order any kind of sandwich he wanted and I would try to supply it. It was a great sandwich, meatloaf with swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard.

    At our last stop, after we ran out of bags of food, a man came up asking for a bag for an old man in the park across the street, but not for himself. “He can’t walk.” Somehow Alberto got a bag of food for him, talking someone into giving their bag to someone who needed it more? Trading an extra toiletry kit for a food bag? Then another man came up, older, tall and gaunt. Alberto seemed to know the man. He seems to know everybody. Alberto quietly came up to me and whispered for me to give him his sandwich, he would give his dinner to the old man. By the time I was able to fetch it, somehow the older man got a food bag. Earlier in the evening Alberto thanked us for coming. “Look at these people,” he said, pointing to people eating their sandwiches and cake, “if you didn’t come tonight, they would have had nothing to eat tonight.”

    I’m so often impressed by the kindness shown by the people on the street. At that last stop, as soon as we got out of the cars a young woman, normally a very quiet, polite person came rushing to us insistantly asking for a turkey sandwich for Mary Jane. Mary Jane, an old woman, using a shopping cart as a walker, wearing a night gown came up slowly behind her. Mary Jane insisted it be a turkey sandwich, “They always give me peanut butter. I won’t eat peanut butter”. When she discovered that it was indeed a turkey sandwich, she smiled a crooked, gap toothed smile visible from behind the white cotton mask drooping from her face.

  2. What a lovely story! How often I have stopped in my tracks and counted the cost. Next time I shall definitely remember your lovely neighbour and give with my eyes shut and my heart open. God I can do it with your help only.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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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