This past month, I had the privilege of doing three workshops at the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Georgia. During one of the workshops, a priest mentioned that UTO had lost its way in her parish and that the Blue Boxes felt like a “tip jar for Jesus” and not a gratitude practice. I have to admit, I was caught off guard by this comment but not surprised that the theology of thankfulness had gotten removed from the action of giving. I promised I would think more on it, and I have and still am. With that said, I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you and also hear your thoughts. (Please email me, text me, Facebook me, or send a pigeon my way!)
I want to start by saying that I find the term “tip jar for Jesus” kind of endearing. It makes me think about the young people who work at my local coffee shop who decorate their tip jar each month to try to attract attention to it. Every time I tip them, it is an opportunity for me to remember to stop and notice that these young people are a blessing to their families and to the communities of which they are a part, and they are blessing me by making my latte. That pause of gratitude recognizes their humanity and mine and the fact that we are bound up together in spite of being strangers to one another. Likewise, when I put my note in my Blue Box, I am acknowledging that Jesus was somehow a part of the process that brought about the blessing. (I think I’ve shared that I put a Post-it Note in my Blue Box instead of money. This then lets me open my box in November and read and count my blessings before making a thank offering online.) I also find the act of writing it down helpful in the pause to acknowledge the blessing for just a moment, so it’s not completely forgotten about when the next task, thing to worry about, or meeting starts. It also helps me reflect on the year that was and remember the good things that happened.
The other day, I was doing some reading and came across this old Irish saying: “Hem your blessing with thankfulness, so they don’t unravel.” This really resonated with me. UTO isn’t simply a tip jar for Jesus to say, “Hey man, nice work!” but it is a moment to stop and notice. UTO is that space to remember that our humanity is bound up with the hope and love of Jesus. We don’t often allow ourselves time to stop and notice, and when we don’t, our blessings start to unravel with the busy nature of our modern lives or get washed away with worries. It’s why researchers often suggest that the best way to combat anxiety is with gratitude. Gratitude interrupts the neurological processes that feed worry. Gratitude helps us to notice, to hem up, to give thanks, and to remember whence the blessing sprouted. Without gratitude, then, the blessings can simply drift away, and that can leave behind resentment, frustration, anxiety, and depression. We can miss the blessings right in front of us and begin to feel like everyone else is blessed except us if we let the small blessings pass by without that moment to stop, notice, and give thanks.
I hope this month you will join me in hemming up our blessings with gratitude by stopping and noticing. Make sure your Blue Box isn’t just a thing you throw change into for Jesus because you don’t want to carry change around, but rather a legitimate part of your routine of presence and gratitude. I also hope you’ll join me in seeing tip jars out in the world a little differently too – may they also be a reminder to stop, notice, and give thanks in that place.