At age 16, of my own free will, (my parents did not ‘ship me off’), I left home to spend my last two years of high school at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia. In spite of having to wear ‘day’ AND ‘night’ uniforms, plus hats (yes, hats) and gloves (I’m not kidding; this was the mid 1950s) to church across the street every Sunday, I loved being at St. Catherine’s.
Looking back and asking myself what it was about St, Catherine’s that meant so much to me, several things come to mind: teachers who were challenging, encouraging, and sometimes terrifying, but who also taught history and English and other subject with a vitality that I still remember; new friends (I knew no one when I got there), some of whom remain close friends to this day; and, finally, something I did not realize until much later: the school motto, which permeated every aspect of the school, from rising early in the morning through evening chapel, and beyond.
“Help us, O Lord, to remember, through the example of Jesus Christ, that what we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own.” We said those words every morning before school, every evening in chapel after dinner, and countless times in between. Over and over and over, I said those words, until little by little, day by day, year after year, they became etched in my mind, and, finally, in my heart.
What we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own. I have written about this motto before—in a Calvary Chronicle in another stewardship season back in the 1980s. I’ve preached about those words, too. I keep doing that because writing about them helps me try to make some sense of the crazy logic behind ‘what we keep we lose’ and ‘only what we give remains our own.’
Of course, that makes no sense! Certainly not dollars and cents sense. But I can also tell you that it makes for an interesting way to live. As silly as this sounds, those words pop into my mind every time I calculate a tip; they rise up to niggle me when I pass the Salvation Army folks ringing bells in front of Kroger. And they really hit me hard when I am asked to do something that I can do with my time, or talent, but just don’t want to be bothered with.
Please understand: the words are NOT a call to become paupers or martyrs. I learned a very hard lesson from the ‘martyr’ end of this motto. For years, I threw myself into far too many projects, made far too many commitments, and ended up essentially grounded from pneumonia, three times. It was a hard lesson but a good one. I am indispensable; hooray.
As far as giving money is concerned, from my time in the Street Ministry at Calvary, I learned the hard truth that we do not serve anyone by handing out money wantonly. Pat Morgan, God bless her, taught us that well. The Street Ministry had no clothing to give, no food to hand out, and no beds.
When someone would ask about our ‘Clothes Closet,’ or our ‘Food Pantry,' or our ‘shelter,' I answered, "We don’t have any of those things."
“Then what do you DO down there?” the startled person asked.
“We talk to people; get to know them; try to figure out why they are homeless in the first place- what the root cause of their predicament is.”
In all of this, I think I’ve learned and am learning that living out the St. Catherine’s motto basically means forgetting about yourself (except for your mental and physical health) thinking about other people instead. I learned in the Street Ministry that it would have been easy, and gratifying, to hand the man in front of me whatever he asked for. And though we did give vouchers for shelter when necessary, the far greater good was done when we sat across from someone, gave her, and her babies, our full attention, and spent as much time as it took to draw out what was really going on with the person.
That’s what ‘stewardship’ means to me: putting oneself fully into a way of life that calls upon us to forget ourselves (what we keep we lose) so that our families, churches, communities, nation, and world, will be better for us having lived (and only what we give remains our own). It does involve money; it also involves time, and sometimes stress and strain. But it is a way of life that was ingrained in me over 50 years ago, and for it I am forever thankful.