I’m convinced that giving someone a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of the most generous things you can do.
We eat a lot of PB&J around here these days. Along with macaroni and cheese, it’s one of the few foods my two year-old, Ian, will eat. At least several times a week, I look at him and say, “Lunch time!” and he promptly responds, “Pea-buuhh jewwy, pwease!” (It’s much cuter when he says it.) So, more afternoons than I care to admit, I find myself in a familiar spot: two slices of Sara Lee honey wheat bread, a giant tub of generic brand peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and a butter knife.
I’m amazed his hands and cheeks aren’t stained a permanent shade of Smuckers grape jelly purple. And of course, it does not matter how many baby wipes I pull from that crinkly little Target package, and it does not matter how thoroughly I wipe each and every one of those chubby toddler fingers. When all’s said and done, there will be peanut butter on my sweater and grape jelly on my couch.
The church I attended in college was big on generosity. Every so often, the sermon highlighted a cause or ministry, and Pastor Mike would ask the congregation to consider contributing. He would ask, “How much will you spend eating out after church today? Would you consider putting that money in the offering basket?” As an extra incentive, the church would offer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to everyone as they left the building. Most days, PB&J doesn’t really compare to a Chipotle burrito bowl, but on those Sundays, it was a matter of choosing generosity. The option to eat that sandwich said, “No excuses. Let’s do this thing.”
Our family recently moved from Florida to Michigan. Much of the time, I feel a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. How did I get here? A tornado, maybe? We are far away from family and friends, but we have the best possible neighbors. They have become the manna in my walk through the wilderness, helping me feel provided for and much less alone.
A few weeks ago, I realized late the night before an OB appointment that I’d forgotten to find a babysitter. I sent a quick text to three of my neighbors, apologizing for my forgetfulness while desperately hoping someone would be available to watch Ian. (Because who wants to take a two-and-a-half-year-old to your six-week postpartum appointment? Answer: certainly not me!) Sure enough, Jolanda graciously responded, even rearranging part of her day to make it happen. As my appointment was ending, she texted to say she was giving Ian lunch and would walk him back over to our house when I got home which meant I wouldn’t have to lug our newborn around outside in the cold.
When Jo showed up at my door with my well-fed toddler, she handed me a Ziploc baggie with a PB&J sandwich inside. “I know sometimes it’s hard to get lunch for yourself,” she said with a smile.
I’m sure Jo thought she was just giving me a sandwich, but it was much more than that. What she really gave me was peace of mind: lunch was taken care of so I had one less thing to decide that day. She gave me hope: proof that God is slowly but surely providing community and relationships in our new home. And she gave me joy: a reminder to pause and acknowledge and give thanks for the many small and beautiful gifts in each day.
Nothing is simpler than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but in that moment, it was beyond what I expected or deserved. When thinking about generosity, I used to imagine missionaries living their lives in exotic locales, or wealthy anonymous donors writing checks with lots of zeroes. I would think of all the entrepreneurs starting impactful nonprofits and a million other big, glamorous gestures.
My thinking has changed.
There was nothing flashy about how my friend served me that day. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not expensive or world-changing or prestigious. Still, I can’t think of anything more generous.
Guest post written by Lindsey Cornett. Lindsey is writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning how to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, Lindsey's faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons - in the world and in her own life. She writes at her blog and is a co-founder of The Drafting Desk, an e-mail newsletter for everyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on Motherhood + Loneliness