It all started when we visited Theo’s house. I don’t really remember the specifics, but I guess my daughter was really enjoying his toy airplane because as we were leaving, his mom leaned down and quietly said to him, “Why don’t you ask her if she wants to borrow it?”
I saw hesitation cross his face and quickly cut in, “Oh, no, it’s okay! We’ll just play with it again next time.”
He was quiet for a moment, and his mom prompted him again, “Will you lend it to her for a few days?”
I remembered the feeling from childhood of another kid taking my toys all too well, and didn’t want to make him do it. Yet, I sensed there was a good learning moment here, and there was something about this whole idea that really resonated with me. So I waited and let him wrestle with the idea, until he slowly said, “Okay, you can borrow it for a few days, and then bring it back.”
My daughter was so surprised, “I can take it? Home?”
“Borrow it,” I quickly said, sending him a reassuring look, “And we’ll bring it back on Sunday.”
His eyebrows were concentrated, and I felt for his little four-year old heart. It was very generous of him to let her take it, and I was very impressed that he was okay with it.
All the way home, I talked about how kind and generous it was for him to lend it to her, and posed various questions to help her appreciate the situation more. How did it make you feel when he said you could take it home? How do you think he felt when his mom asked him to lend it to you? How did you think he felt when you walked out the door with it? Do you think this toy is very special to him? Even if it’s not, it’s probably hard to let someone else walk away with something that belongs to you. How should you treat the airplane? What do you think about lending other kids your toys?
It was a great conversation, and got us both thinking. The following Sunday, we returned the toy, but the toy-lending fun was just beginning. The more I thought about it, the more I felt this was such an excellent teaching opportunity! So the next time we had a friend over for a play date, I observed how much the little girl was enjoying dress-up and I asked my daughter, “What do you think about lending this dress to her?”
She paused, considering the idea. I could tell she didn’t really want to do it, but probably remembered how nice it was when Theo lent her his airplane.
“Um… okay! You can borrow it!” she chirped. Well, that was easy.
Her mother cut in, “Oh no, no, it’s okay, we don’t want to take your dress.”
“Oh, it’s fine!” I insisted, “You don’t have to, but if she’s enjoying it, feel free to bring it home and she can return it whenever! We have plenty.”
“Are you sure?” her mom laughed, as her daughter jumped up and down with excitement.
“Of course! We’re happy to share!” I said.
“Yay! Yay! Yay!” her daughter cried, pumping her fists in the air.
I could see my daughter smiling, happy to make someone else so happy so easily. And thus began a beautiful tradition. Now, whenever we have little friends over to play, she’s quick to offer a toy- big, small, new, old, favorite, neglected- to someone if they seem to like it. Oftentimes, young children get upset when it’s time to go, and it warms my heart every time she pokes her head over to see what they’re playing with and says, “Oh, you like that? Wanna borrow it? You can take it! No, really! Go ahead!”
The parents are always a little surprised at first, and the kids always pause, eyeing their parents to see what they’ll say. And then she follows up, “It’s fine! We have plenty! You can take it, you can!”
So the kids head out, mailbox or truck or dress in hand, with a new toy to play with. And my daughter continues about her day, content with what she has, not fussing about what she doesn’t have.
It blows me away every time. I can’t believe how loosely she holds our stuff, and how generous she is about sharing it. I know I wasn’t like that when I was a kid. She doesn’t pause to consider that it’s her favorite dress, a toy that has many pieces that could go missing, or a new toy that might come back damaged. She doesn’t even notice they’re gone once they’re out of the house, and never asks about them when they’re not returned for a while. To be fair, we do have a LOT of toys and the “out of sight, out of mind” principle holds true most of the time, but still. It doesn’t concern her. And that’s how it should be, isn’t it?
If I’m completely honest, I struggle a lot more with lending my stuff out than my kids do. I worry if I will get it back, what condition it will return in, or if I’ll need it in the interim. Even with the toys, I find myself considering which toys are better for lending and not. Will the puzzle come back missing a piece (THE HORROR!), or the dress come back with a stain? And then I laugh at how I could possibly fret over such minor details when most of these items were handed down or gifted to us in the first place, and really, stuff is just stuff. It’s so temporary and material. But the impact of a generous and selfless heart can be eternal.
This happened again just the other day. We had one of my daughter’s classmates over to play, and as they were getting their shoes on to leave, her friend spotted a little pumpkin on the entryway table. It was my daughter’s special pumpkin that she had picked out at the pumpkin patch last week. We hadn’t actually planned to buy any pumpkins, but she begged us to let her pick one, and was overcome with joy when we said yes. I can literally still see her face as she walked off with it, exclaiming, “This is the PERFECT pumpkin for meeeee!! Yay, yay! I love my pumpkin!” because I snapped a photo of that moment and posted it onto my Instagram account. It was that precious.
When we got home, she sat down and set about decorating it. She drew on it with markers, then added sparkle, shine, and pizzazz with sequins, beans, and googly eyes. She proudly added it to the fall decorations near the entryway and talked about it with whoever would listen. Which is why I was so heartmeltingly surprised when she saw her friend admiring the pumpkin and immediately piped up, “Wanna borrow it? You can borrow it!”
“Oh, really?” her mom asked, “We got a pumpkin too, and we carved it, but then it got all moldy!”
“Yah, you can borrow it!” she repeated.
“That would be nice,” the mom said, “because our pumpkin is all moldy right now.”
I was silent. As you can imagine, I was struggling between, “But waitwaitwait, it’s your special pumpkin, you don’t have to give away everything, you can keep it!” and “WOW I can’t believe she is so quick to share- that’s my girl!” So I didn’t say anything. It was her pumpkin- if she was going to give it away, I wanted it to be all her own decision. Also, would the family really appreciate just borrowing a pumpkin? If they needed to replace their moldy one, they’d probably want to keep it a bit longer, right? At least through Halloween?
I was trying to think of a way to subtly mention this to my daughter when she said it herself, “It’s okay, you can just keep it!”
And that was that. The family walked off with the pumpkin and she scampered off to play, quickly forgetting all about it (…I think. Who knows what goes on in that little mind!).
I could not help but reflect on how much better my daughter is at all of this than I am, and I prayed that God would help me be more like her. They always say you learn more from your kids than you teach them, and it’s definitely been true in this lesson of generosity. I thought I was teaching my daughter to have a generous heart and share, but the way she has embraced this practice has been such a lesson to my own heart. She has inspired me to hold things more loosely, give away things with truly no strings attached, and to care less about the material things of the world. She has taught me to be less calculating about giving and more joyous about sharing from the abundance of what we have. She has taught me that we can enjoy the things we have, and also enjoy sharing it with others.
Just because it’s special to us doesn’t mean we have to hold onto it tightly with our little pudgy hands. Maybe it means we should be all the more eager to offer it to others with our palms up.