A Mother's Secret

For years, my mother was a mystery to me.

Growing up in the 1960's, I believed that my family was the poorest on the block. Unlike my school-mates, I wore hand-me-downs. Unlike our neighbors, our carpets were threadbare and my mother rode the bus to work.

Yet for all that, we employed an ironing lady and a cleaning woman. Every week, we drove across town to the tenement of a widow named Mrs. Mers and picked up a basket of ironing. Once home, Mom ironed every piece of clothing — again.

"Why do we pay her to iron if you're just going to do it over?" one of us would ask.

Mom would shrug. "She needs the money."

Mrs. Grubb, our house cleaner, was another widow living on a limited income. Every Thursday, she left behind streaked windows, sticky linoleum floors and half-dusted surfaces. So every Saturday, Mom had my brothers and me clean up after our cleaning lady.

"Why do you pay Mrs. Grubb to clean if you're just going to make us do it over?" we would ask.

Mom would shrug. "She needs the money."

I never understood. My mom died when I was 14, so the mystery lingered as I matured into adulthood. I suspected there was more to her arrangements with Mrs. Mers and Mrs. Grubb than I grasped at the time, but I never quite got it. Until recently.

My son, Aaron, arrived home from school one day and saw my friend Tim painting my home office.

"Why is he doing that?" Aaron asked later. "You just painted the whole first floor last year, didn't you?"

The words were out of my mouth before I knew it. "He needs the money."

In that moment, I heard my mother's voice and the realization suddenly dawned. Unsuspectingly, I had learned a biblical principle: "When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Matthew 6:3). And I hoped that my son would learn from me — as I had learned from my mother — how rewarding it can be to give to others in secret.

Taken from Focus on the Family magazine, March 2008.
Article copyright © 2008, Bob Hostetler.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission

Bob Hostetler is a pastor, author and speaker.
He and his wife, Robin, live in Ohio and have two grown children.