It goes without saying – toddlers find it difficult to share. Have you ever tried to convince a 2 or 3 year old that they need to share something? Sometimes they are willing – very often they are not.
Just this past week, Becky had two of our kids with her picking up vegetables just down here on Grand boulevard. And one of the things she picked up was a small pumpkin. She had her hands full with the other vegetables, and so she asked Reuben if he would carry the pumpkin. Well someone, who happens to be named Esther, decided that she really should be the one carrying the pumpkin. “But Esther, it’s Reuben’s turn – I asked him to help me. You can carry something next time.” Well, as you probably suspect, that wasn’t going to do it for Esther. It was now or never – and the tears flowed and the little screams came. But I want to carry the pumpkin.
The whole logic of sharing is something that toddler’s are on their way to learning. It’s true that toddler’s can be taught to share, but it is only as they develop and mature that the logic of sharing becomes more deeply engrained in them. Even as they grow, of course, the various influences in a child’s environment (the example set by adults, for example) will influence whether they share with others.
Now most of us believe that a well-adjusted adult is one who has learned to share. That’s a given in the culture around us. But it’s interesting if we stop and think about who we share with – about what kind of sharing we value.
In a recent article in the journal Cognition, two professors from the Psychology Department at Harvard describe the circumstances in which we tend to share with others. They point out that we share resources preferentially with three types of people – we share with our close relations (our family); we share with people who have shared with us (when it’s a two way street); and we share with those who we have seen sharing with others – in others words, when we have good reason to believe that they might share resources with us.
Now in our daily life – in everyday existence we generally function in this way. I let my neighbour borrow my lawnmower because he let me use his hedge trimmer. I share food with my sister when we’re camping because, well, we’re family. I’ve seen someone in the neighbourhood sharing resources, so I might share with them, too.
But what’s interesting about these three situations is that in each and every one, something circles back to me. It’s not that I’m the only one who matters in these various situations; not at all – it’s not that I’m the centre of this world of exchange and sharing – not at all. Nevertheless in each of these situations of sharing there is a fundamental assumption that some benefit will accrue to me. We humans learn to share – absolutely, we learn to share as we grow and develop – but our sharing tends to be within the confines of a circle within which I am protected or provided for.
What’s particularly interesting about that article from the journal Cognition, is the authors’ demonstration that 3 ½ year olds show evidence of sharing in these same three contexts. It is deeply engrained in our human identity to share within a circle of exchange within which I might not be the centre, but within which some real benefit accrues to me.
Now these are complicated questions, at many levels, and I am not a developmental psychologist. There are competing claims about the roots of this willingness to share, these forms of altruism (these ways of showing goodness toward others).
And in my short reflection, we don’t want to get into a deep reflection on all of this. Let me focus very briefly somewhere else this morning, and by doing so pick up on some thoughts I shared yesterday at our Jazz Vespers. In that familiar passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle writes: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourself. It is the gift of God.”
We can extend the Apostle’s words – for God’s grace has priority at every level.
It is by the strength and imagination and power of a gracious God that we are given the gift of life – this is not of yourself. It is the gift of God.
It is by the goodness and mercy of God that we have been conducted into the resurrection life of his Son, the new kingdom of his Son – this is not of yourself. It is the gift of God.
It is by the expansive love of God that we have been given a share in the Spirit and been strengthened to love – this is not of yourself. It is the gift of God.
The generosity of God – the abundance of God’s goodness is represented in that beautiful narrative from 1 Kings. A woman’s hope, for herself and for her son, has run out. Their food has run out, and she says to the prophet Elisha: “As the Lord your god lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” In the mist of famine, she is without hope for herself and her son. But in the midst of her great need, God supplies. The prophet declares; “Don’t be afraid. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” And it was as the prophet declared.
It is by grace you have been saved, by faith, and this is not of yourself. It is a gift of God.
When we look at the widow of Zaraphath as she is named, we look in the mirror. We may feel worlds apart from her, but in her life and experience with Elisha a mirror is held up to our lives. It is by grace we have been created, it is by grace we have been given a share in the resurrection life of Jesus, it is by grace we have been given a share in the Spirit – this is not of yourself. It is a gift of God. In a powerful sense, our need is as desperate as the need of that woman (though often we cannot see it) and God’s provision for us day be day is no less dramatic than God’s provision for the widow and her son.
As we dwell with this reality – as we let this truth sink into our minds, into our skin, into our hearts, into our lives – suddenly that confined circle of sharing seems so constricted. In our reading from Ephesians today, the Apostle writes: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us…” In the expansive love of God show in Christ, God flings wide his arms and welcomes us in – creating us, raising us to the new life of Jesus’ kingdom, filling us with the life-giving Spirit. And we are invited to live in that same expansive love.
Suddenly that confined circle of sharing seems so constricted – suddenly we realize that at every level our life and our new life is grace. And what is most important – that which has been extended to us, has been extended to our neighbour – for God so loved the world. The good gifts of God in Christ are theirs no more or less than ours. There is no basis for restricting our sharing to that circle of exchange within which the benefit accrues to us. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us…