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What Sand Dollars Teach Me About Generosity

I had a recent stay at the beach.  This particular beach was famous for its sand dollars.

At first, a quick walk on the beach showed the occasional sand dollar, but most were broken.  Not to be outdone, I watched and observed.  I knew that there were others who were coming away with stacks of the little treasures.  Their habits were to wander more to the outgoing tide.

I soon learned the secret.  As the tide swept out, the pull of the waves would unearth smidges of sand dollar.  I only had to pounce on the unsuspecting sand dollar before it was buried again.  I found I could stride across a narrow stretch of sand and bring in a rather nice haul in a short period of time.

My rather plump storehouse of sand dollars meant that I had to do something with them.  Most were stained—not at all like the nice gleaming white ones in the store.  The answer?  I googled it, and presto! I found I could bleach them.  The solution did the trick even if it meant that I spilled some bleach on my clothes, which left its own spots.  A coating of water-thinned glue to harden them and preserve them followed the bleach.

That was a lot of work to save sand dollars.  But still I figured I could save them up and put them in a jar on a shelf to give us a memento of our trip.

The next day I still found myself in search of sand dollars.  But honestly, the thrill of the search was not as captivating.  I had enough.  What would I do with all of these things anyway?  I’ve heard it said there are only three things you can do with money:  spend it, save it, or give it.  Regardless, you’ll end up giving it in the end.

New plan.  I’d seen a woman walk up and down the beach every day collecting shells and sand dollars.  But she didn’t keep hers.  Every day, she’d take her little collection and leave it on the rocks for those leaving the beach to pick and choose from.  It was her offering, her gift.

So I did the same.  I began collecting my sand dollars with the same vigor but with a greater anticipation—to make a gift, to leave an offering for someone who didn’t want to wander into the waves.  It gave me a greater sense of joy to think I could make someone’s day happy by my gift.  And each day, my offering of sand dollars was gone.

My sand dollar lessons of generosity:

  1. There’s joy in the hunt and discovery of the treasure. I think for every one of us, the quest is more important than the destination.
  2. I don’t create wealth. I didn’t make those sand dollars.  God made them.  I just hunted for them.  Similarly, wealth doesn’t come from us, and it’s not guaranteed to us. Every day I work with business people, and I see some succeed and some fail.  As Deut. 8.18 says, You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”
  3. It takes work to manage wealth. Just as I needed to collect, bleach and preserve my sand dollars, it takes work to manage wealth—however much we may have.  And for what?  My sand dollars will eventually turn brittle and crack.  They will go away.
  4. Decide how much is enough. At some point, we all need to answer the question, “How much is enough?”—enough sand dollars, enough money in the bank, enough investments, etc.
  5. The joy of generosity is greater than the keeping. While the discovery was fun, it was greater fun to think that I was hunting for the sheer pleasure of making someone else happy.  Not all can wander in the waves like me.  And the anticipation of making someone else happy is greater than the pleasure of my own keeping.

About Bill High

Bill is CEO of the National Christian Foundation Heartland. He works with families, individual givers, and financial advisers to share the foundation’s message regarding biblical generosity and charitable giving. He is the co-author with David Green of Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously: www.givingitallawaybook.com. » Learn More

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