On Giving Generously, Without Control

A few weeks ago, Katie baked chocolate muffins to take to church potluck.

After she’d pulled them from the oven and set them on the stove to cool, she hopped up onto the counter and rummaged through our junk cabinet. A moment later, she emerged, triumphantly clutching a place card holder, a relic leftover from some long ago party.

(Yes, we have an entire junk cabinet. And also a drawer. And also a basket. Some days, it feels like all our house is a repository for junk. C’est la vie.)

She slid a post-it note into the holder, then read it to me: “Please take only one half so everyone who wants one can have one. Thank you!”

“It’s for potluck,” she explained. “So that people don’t take more than their fair share. I want everyone who wants one to get one.”

Recently, I was talking with some friends about the weighty responsibility of raising kids.

If I’m honest, what I want most is a checklist. A guarantee. If I just do x, y, and z, my kids will be ok. If I can only do these things and not those, if I only make the right choices or use the right kind of discipline or attend the right church, the outcome will be sure.

But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.

As one (wiser) friend said, “It isn’t up to us! In a way, it’s really freeing. Our job is to be faithful to what God has given us to do, then to let go and trust Him with the rest.”

I told Katie that I appreciated her desire to share with as many people as possible, but that it wasn’t our job to police who took what. Jonathan, not surprisingly, did a better job of articulating what I was trying to say.

“It goes against the generosity you’re showing by making muffins in the first place,” he said. “Part of giving is letting go. You can’t control what happens when you’re generous; it’s your job to give, and then see what happens.”

She wasn’t convinced.

“I was so careful to be kind and polite, though!” She paused, studying her note. “And I wrote it in such neat handwriting, too.”

(When I read parts of this out loud to her for pre-post approval, she scrunched her nose at me. “It isn’t really that neat, though. Maybe you could just leave the picture out?”

“I need a picture,” I told her.

“And the whole thing kind of makes me sound like a little girl.”

“Would you rather I didn’t post it?”

She shrugged. “No, it’s ok.”)

I’m not particularly good at letting go.

If I give advice to someone or attempt to speak life into a difficult situation, I want those involved to heed what I say. When I’m teaching my kids, I want them to recognize the truth, beauty, and goodness of what I lay before them, and to live their lives accordingly. Every time I write something and share it, I want the things I say to make a difference to those who read it.

(And, lest you think it’s all about the weighty things around here, this also applies to the mundane. When I cook dinner, I want it to be appreciated. When I fold laundry, I want it to be placed neatly in drawers and closets. When I clean the house, I want it to stay clean for more than five minutes.)

I spend my time and energy and resources on such things because I care–deeply–about the results. And somewhere in my heart of hearts, I believe that it’s on me to make things happen, to make sure everything turns out ok.

Neat handwriting or not, the note stayed behind when we left for church.

It was her decision, not ours.

(I say this with full knowledge of the influence an adult’s opinion can have on a child. Still, we let her make the final call.)

We carried the plate of muffins inside and set it on the long potluck table, between salads and casseroles and fruit. One item among many others, given freely and generously, without control.

To state the obvious: I can’t make sure everything turns out ok, no matter how hard I try. I just don’t have that kind of control.

(On my good days, I can admit that’s a good thing.)

That’s what my friend meant, I think, when she said that letting go was freeing. She wasn’t telling us to stop striving, to stop caring, to stop growing or learning or loving.

She was encouraging us to release the responsibility for the outcomes, a responsibility which was never ours to carry in the first place. She was reminding us to do what was in front of us diligently and faithfully and prayerfully and to trust God for the rest. To give of ourselves freely and generously, without control, and then to wait and see what happens.

As it turned out, Katie needn’t have worried.

She wasn’t the only one to notice that certain hands are sometimes overeager when loading their plates with all the bounty of potluck. And those others who noticed took a different approach to ensuring there was enough: they moved selected items – some smoked tri-tip, a hearty stew, Katie’s muffins, and more – to a tall table tucked back against the wall, out of sight of the suspected culprits.

After the initial rush, and even later, when the tables had been picked over and picked over again, our platter was there, with six muffin halves left.

On his way out the door, we were stopped by a young teen, one of those, perhaps, at whom Katie’s note was aimed.

“Can I have one?”


“Can I have two?”

“Go for it.”

Jonathan cut him off when he asked for three. He had spotted a dear (adult) friend of Katie’s. “Did you get one of these?” he asked, pointing to the plate. “Katie made them.”

“Well, I’d better try one, then!” She snagged one, and so did two people sitting next to her.

I ate the last one myself as I walked to the car, where Katie was waiting. She saw the empty plate in my hands.

“Did you get to try one?” she asked.

“I did.” I flashed her a grin. “They were delicious.”

1 response to "On Giving Generously, Without Control"

  1. By: Jamie Posted: October 25, 2023

    Giving freely is a valuable lesson, one I’m still working on too. Parenting is such a weighty responsibility, I relate to so much of what you said about wanting your efforts to be heeded and valued, but that we really need to be free and let go. So tough!

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