The Sanctity of Free


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

When was the last time you received something of value for free?

For me, the first items that come to mind are all the free books I get in the mail for possible review on the blog.  I’m also thinking of the little stack of gift cards accumulating on our kitchen table and those awesome return address labels I get from World Vision every year.

Now, think again. When was the last time you received something of value for free…with no strings attached, no expectation for reciprocation, and no advertising for potential profit involved?

Hmm…That one is a lot harder.  I think of the steak dinners my parents make for us nearly every game day in the fall, the patchwork of crude drawings on our refrigerator, the last time I heard the swell of choir voices echo off cathedral walls.

In our market-centric culture, there is something sacred and special about the truly free.

In his excellent book, “Signs of Emergence,” Kester Brewin writes:

“Deep down we all have a need to give and a need to receive freely. We cannot go through life buying and paying for everything, for to do so would leave us empty and soulless…The market always seeks a profit, but the gift seeks out the empty-handed. So let us become the empty-handed church, happy to receive gifts and pass them on into mystery, refusing to hold on to them for our own blessing” (p. 156, 163).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially as the holidays approach and the whole country descends into consumerism-fueled madness. Its seems to me that one of the most effective ways to live counter-culturally as followers of Jesus Christ is to give freely of our time, money, talents, and resources…with no strings attached and no expectation of return. As Jesus taught:

“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Luke 6:33-35)

So how can implement this principle practically?  Here are some cool ideas I’ve encountered recently:

1. “Find someone in need. Take their portrait”—This is the idea behind the Help-Portrait project. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I have found that taking people’s pictures and printing them up for free makes for a beautiful, personal gift. 

2. Offer free childcare. For Dan and me, (we have no children of our own yet, and we both work from home), this is a great way to help our friends when they are in a bind or when they just need some time alone.

3. Make your church a sanctuary from consumerism and a center for gift giving. Brewin puts it this way: “Churches must aspire to become centers of gift exchange in the broadest sense. They should provide hanging spaces for artists, venues for music of all types, forums for discussions and debates, classes for expectant mothers…whatever gifts there are in the local community, the church should be the place where these gifts can be exchanged or shared.” (p. 157)

4. Teach.  One of the greatest gifts you can give is your knowledge and skills. Tutor kids. Teach computer skills to seniors. Offer financial training to struggling adults. The list could go on and on.

5. Join the advent conspiracy. (The part of the video that compares how much we spend on Christmas each year vs. how much money is needed to offer clean water to the world gets me every time.)

6. Offer your skills for free. This can be tough for freelance workers like Dan and myself. Obviously, we need to make a living. But occasionally, (and with admitted selectivity), we will offer our writing, marketing, Web design, video production skills for free, especially for missions organizations.

7. My personal favorite: Work for one day for free. Yep, you heard me right! Check out Eugene Cho’s fantastic organization, One Day’s Wages. The Web site includes a calculator for figuring up your daily income. It’s absolutely stunning what a huge impact just 0.4% of your annual wages can make for people in need.  For example, I learned that for what I make in just one day, a teacher in the jungles of Burma can be paid an entire year’s salary!

Consider working for free for just one day by donating to one of ODW’s partners. Maybe you could gather a group of friends or coworkers to do it together (with a pledge from your company to match funds raised). Maybe you could commit the day to prayer and fasting for those in need.  Maybe you could get your kids involved by encouraging them to give away one day’s allowance. 

Any other ideas? How have you blessed…or been blessed…by the sanctity of free?

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