About a month ago a close friend of mine, Austin, was leaving a candy store when he was confronted by a 10-year-old boy. The boy was clutching in his hands a Popsicle stick with an ugly, poorly sculpted play dough witch perched on the end of it. “Hey mister,” he said, “do you wanna buy this witch off me for four dollars?” My friend took one look at this ugly, discolored witch and said simply, “Um, no thanks.”
He then continued to walk home, but Austin soon found himself thinking twice. Austin thought of that boy and of the desperate look on his face. He thought about himself when he was that age. And he thought about the ugly, worthless play dough witch. Immediately, he turned around and went back to the candy store. Austin found the boy still outside the store. He came up to him, leaned over to look him in the face and said, “Hey dude, I’ll buy that witch off you for four bucks.”
The boy, who had resigned to the fact that no one wanted his play dough witch, was overcome with excitement. “Really?” he asked, not sure if Austin was just toying with him.
“Yeah,” said Austin, and he produced four dollars.
“Thanks mister!” yelled the boy, running ecstatically into the candy store. Austin looked fondly down at his purchase, and then tucked it away into his coat. As far as I know, Austin still has it.
Recounting the story to me later, Austin said, “Man, Will, imagine how cool that would be. Imagine you’re 10 years old, and some guy buys some crappy thing you made from you for four dollars! That would make your whole day. I just wanted to make someone’s day. It felt really good.”
The boy undoubtedly spent all the money on candy. He probably ruined his dinner. Austin’s money didn’t go to a reputable cause; theoretically it would be doing a lot more good in a charity. Or in a collection box. Or maybe on a purchase of his own. But that little piece of joy Austin gave to the boy was enough assurance to him that he had done the right thing.
A couple days later, my church had a grand opening for a drop-in youth center. The mayor came to cut a ribbon, we hosted anyone who wanted to come, and we gave out tons of free food. There was a barbeque with free hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as chips and pop. It was a beautiful day and a great event. I invited another friend of mine, Brandon, to come to the grand opening. More than a little bit hostile to any type of religion, he arrived regardless. As he put it, he was “hungry and had nothing better to do.”
He showed up, played with our games and ate our free food. We were more than happy to have him. But the crowning moment of the afternoon was when he walked up to me, downing his second cheeseburger, and said, “I love this. I’m totally taking advantage of you guys, eating all your food and playing all your games.”
I looked at him and said, “Yeah, dude, that’s the whole point.”
A bit confused at my indifference, he said, “Yeah, but I’m not going to convert to Christianity or anything. I just came for the free food.”
“I know,” I said.
“But isn’t that the whole point, though? You want me to come so you can like, make me come out to church stuff, right? Because I’m not going to.”
“No dude, the whole point is just that. Giving you guys free food.”
Brandon couldn’t quite grasp the idea that all the free stuff was being given to him without some ulterior motive. He had grown up in a church that used sneaky tactics to incorporate biblical messages into fun, seemingly mindless games. He had grown up in a youth group that ran summer camps where the number of people who “gave their lives to Christ” or “rededicated their lives” were kept in tallies on the wall. Acts of kindness without the purpose of converting people? He had never heard of such a thing!
Metaphorically, Brandon had been that little boy waiting outside a candy store hoping to sell a play dough witch. The church had come along and bought the witch, but then told him that it wasn’t right and he should feel guilty for spending the money on candy. On top of that, Brandon should start living his live more reasonably and healthily. Brandon was hoping for money, and instead he got laden with a guilt trip and a sermon.
Maybe we, as Christians, should stop concerning ourselves with accomplishing something with our acts of kindness. Maybe we should just strive to make someone’s day. Make someone smile. Make someone laugh. I implore you, as Christians, to find it in yourself to give up that $4 for a worthless toy witch. Because though the witch may be worthless, the smile on the kid’s face when you hand him the money is priceless.[Will Johnson is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada. He volunteers as a youth leader at his church and works as a lifeguard and a swim coach.]
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