The Biggest Smallest Gift

Submitted by Grace J. on Sun, 07/15/2018 - 23:25

It was a cool, crisp morning. Hannah washed the breakfast dishes while her husband, Philip, tied a few chests onto their donkey. He was a carpenter, and a rather wealthy man had asked him to make the fine chests and bring them to his house.

“I’ll be back by supper,” Philip told his wife as he mounted the animal. He didn’t swing himself up like he used too, Hannah noticed. But, then again, her step wasn’t quite as springy as it had been, nor her back as straight. They were both getting older.

Hannah stepped forward and handed a basket to Philip. “Here, this is your lunch, and this,” she handed him a package, “is the money for the temple.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll bring it to the temple on my way home, since I’ll have the tithe from the sale of the chests.”

“Good,” Hannah answered. She squeezed his hand and whispered, “Be careful. You know the road isn’t as safe as it used to be.”

“Don’t worry, my love,” he said, smiling at his wife. “God will watch over me. He’s always watched over us and provided for us.”

“Yes, I know. He has been good to us.” She smiled back. “But all the same, don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he teased her, but Hannah could tell he would heed her words. “Good bye!” she called, stepping backwards.

“Good bye!” Philip called back, urging the donkey forward. The animal began plodding forward, and Hannah stepped back to watch the two leave. Even after her husband disappeared from view, she continued to listen. She could still hear his joyful voice, singing one of his favorite songs.

Hannah smiled. Philip was always so happy. Even when their neighbors looked at the couple’s circumstances and said God was punishing them, Philip chose to believe God was still good to them.

The two had never been very rich. Even now, though he was getting along in years, Philip had to work so the two of them could survive. The rest of their Jewish community considered this one of two signs that God was displeased with them. The second was that they didn’t have any children.
Hannah had always longed for a child, and perhaps if they had had one, he or she would be supporting her and Philip and they wouldn’t have to work so hard. But they never did. And now they never would.

The woman sighed. Oh, how she would have loved to have a son or daughter! It had been so hard over the years as her hope gradually died off. During that time, she struggled with why. Why didn’t God bless her and Philip with a child? They had served Him faithfully their whole lives; why was He withholding the one thing they wanted most?

When she talked to Philip about this, he had listened understandingly and comforted her. Then, he said, “Hannah, I don’t understand why God had chosen not to give us a child. However, I know He is still good. We have been blessed immensely, more then we deserve. We have so much to be grateful for.”

He told her that again and again throughout their marriage: “We have so much to be grateful for.” Philip thanked God in everything that came his way and trusted him through it all. He had remained grateful, even when Hannah struggled. And he showed his gratefulness by giving. He loved to give to the temple. He and Hannah always gave their tithe, as the law said, but Philip wanted to give more. Any time they had extra, he gave it. Sometimes, Hannah was worried by his giving. What if he gave more than they could afford? There had been times where she thought they would go hungry a day or two while they waited for him to finish making something. But even then, Philip had told her to trust God. “God has been so good to us. We have so much to be grateful for that we must give. Besides, He has already given us so much, so why do you think He would abandon us now?”

Hannah took a deep breath. She loved the smell of fresh bread. It always made the house smell just a little more homey. Smiling, she set the loaf on the table with the rest of the supper food. She checked one last time to make sure everything was neat, then sat down to wait for Philip’s return. It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes, she thought.

But Philip didn’t come.

Minutes passed. Ten, thirty, fifty, an entire hour went by, and still Philip hadn’t come.

Hannah began to pace the house, worrying. Where was he? What had happened to delay him so long?

Finally, three hours later, a donkey came trotting up. Hannah threw open the door and hurried out to meet her husband—and saw instead a neighbor on his animal. He had a look of dread on his face. “What’s going on?” she asked, her momentary relief giving way to fear.

“Hannah, Philip’s been…” the neighbor’s voice trailed off.

“Philip? What’s happened? Is he all right?”

“He’s dead.”

Hannah never knew how she made it through those next few moments. The neighbor explained that Philip had been driving home when some bandits attacked him and stole his money and donkey. They beat him to death and left him alone on the road.

Hannah somehow thanked the man and staggered back inside. There, she collapsed on the floor, sobbing.

The next few days were a struggle. Philip was buried and the technical details of his death taken care of and then Hannah was left alone with her grief. The world outside kept on moving like nothing had happened, but her life would never be the same again. She grieved for the one she had loved most in the world and worried about the future. She was now a widow without children. There was no one to take care of her.

A month passed. The small amount of money she had had stored up at Philip’s death dwindled away despite her stretching and scrimping. Now she began selling her belongings. One by one, each item left. Chairs, tables, quilts, dishes, Philip’s tools—nearly everything.

Now it had been five months since his death. Hannah stood by the door, silently surveying her house. It was almost entirely empty. The remaining items she had were so old or broken no one would buy them, so instead they teased her, reminding her of everything that had been but could never be again.

And now, the money from the sales was running out. What was going to happen to her?

Hannah shuffled over to the cupboard, and looked inside. Just as she had expected. Empty. There was no food left in the house at all.

The widow then knelt down on the floor to pull up a board. Underneath was a box containing two copper coins—all the money she had left in the world. And there was nothing else to sell. Once this money was gone, she would be destitute.

A tear slipped down Hannah’s face as she pulled the two coins out and gazed at them. She had tried so hard to avoid this moment and now it was here. She didn’t know what little she could buy with her money, but it would be her last bit. She would starve to death soon.

Hannah stayed there for a while, her tears coming faster and faster. She was so hungry, so tired, so lonely, so afraid. What was going to happen to her now?

As she sat on her knees before the hole, her mind slipped into the past. She thought about Philip. When she closed her eyes, Hannah could still see him and hear his voice. Now, as she wondered about the future, his words came echoing through her head: “God has been so good to us. We have so much to be grateful for that we must give. Besides, He has already given us so much, so why do you think He would abandon us now?”

Her sobs slowly stopped. Why do you think He would abandon us now…why do you think He would abandon us…why do you think He will abandon you, Hannah?

It was almost as if Philip himself has said it. The widow knew that’s what he would say if he were here. “God has been so good to you, Hannah. You have so much to be grateful for. He has given you so much, so why do you think He will abandon you now?”

Hannah lowered her head. “Dear God, I want to believe this. I want to trust you. Please, help me.”

She began to feel a sense of peace wash over. “God has been so good to me,” she whispered. “God has been so good to me. God has been so good to me. He gave me Philip for fifty-eight years, He gave my husband a job, He gave us water and food, He gave us a house, He gave us clothes, He provided for us day by day. He never once failed us. Even when we gave more than I thought we could afford, God provided. So why do I think He will abandon me now?”

The widow resolutely stood up and turned towards the door, grasping the two coins. “I have so much to be grateful for. And I know how to show my gratefulness.”

The streets were crowded with the usual morning bustle. People hurried this way and that, shouting, laughing, talking, too busy to notice a poor widow weaving her way through the crowds, holding the two coins close.

Finally, Hannah reached her destination. She walked slowly forward through the slightly thinner crowds that were also heading into the temple.

There were three other people already waiting to give their money. Hannah was astounded to see the magnificent clothes they wore and the large quantities of money they gave. The first man seemed to enjoy hearing the money clatter as he dumped a bag of coins in. A woman wearing fine clothing watched proudly as her servants poured her offering in. The third Jew was followed by two servants grasping a chest filled with coins. “Yes, yes, pour it right in there,” he said a bit more loudly then he needed to. The people around him turned their heads to see what the fuss was about, and the man seemed pleased with the attention. Clinking and clattering, the moving money brought the attention of just about everyone else in the temple. They gasped at the man’s generosity, and he puffed his chest out before walking pompously out.

Then it was Hannah’s turn. When everyone saw it was just a poor woman, they turned away. Some wrinkled their noses at her ragged clothing, and she felt her face flush. For a minute, she wavered. Should she really give the coins? "It’s so small," a voice whispered. "It won’t matter if you give it or keep it. Even the Pharisees would think it was unimportant. Besides, it’s all you have left. You will be destitute. You won’t be able to eat tonight, or ever again. No one will care if you give it, so why don’t you keep it for yourself?"

"But it doesn’t matter if others care or not. It only matters what God thinks."

Hannah closed her eyes. “I’m not giving so that others see. I’m giving because God has blessed me and I want to thank him.”

The widow opened her eyes, took a breath, and dropped the money in. It made two soft clinking noises against the dozens of other coins that the rich had given. It was so tiny. So quiet. Nothing like what she had given in the past or like the people before her had contributed. Doubts continued to swirl around her head. Perhaps God didn’t notice. No one else seemed to. No one would have noticed if she had kept the money for herself. She had so little to offer. What if nothing came of it? Would it have been better to keep the coins?

The widow turned to leave. And that was when she first noticed a man watching her, surrounded by twelve other men. Normally, Hannah would have felt uncomfortable. But there was something about this man…

She smiled. Suddenly, she understood.

The man turned to speak to the others around him, but Hannah couldn’t make out the words over the noise. It didn’t matter, though, because somehow, deep down, she knew that God saw her. God knew. And God cared.

Hannah walked out of the temple happier then she had felt in months. Her gift was small. In fact, it was nothing compared to what the others had given. Men would look down on her and her gift and frown.

But God looked down and smiled.

And that was all that mattered.

“‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live one.”

Author's age when written


This is a beloved story, and you tell it with such sweet simplicity and perfect honesty. I love it. I’m curious, what prompted you to write this story?

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

I'm glad you liked it!

I read the book of Luke a few months ago for school, and since then I've thought a bit about this story. It's one of the passages in the Bible that is short yet memorable, and left me wondering what would cause a poor widow to give her last two coins.

As I began to write, I also found ideas in two other books I was reading, one about finding hope (and being grateful) even in the midst of pain and the other on Hudson Taylor. All my thoughts finally came together in the past days to produce this story.

“You are doing something great with your life—when you are doing all the small things with His great love.” - Ann Voskamp