This may seem a step backward from what I've advocated in these past two posts (that we shouldn't accept money for love and to take our too much stuff, couple it with our too much time, and give it away while engaging our neighbors) - but not everything can be free. It shouldn't be. We must have a currency.
Now, whether that currency should be money, I'm not necessarily sure. But that admittedly comes from someone who refuses to live by the dollar. Maybe our currency is time. Or talent. An old-school barter system. But we have to exchange something we have for something we need or want; it absolutely must be this way.
Which is why I told my friend to keep my 50 cents; she owes me nothing. Part of it is probably pride, the sense of being able to give a little something to take a little something, to pay my way through the world as needed. And yes, I do take pride in this - in trying to give as much as I take (or usually give more). I'm probably not alone when I say that it's hard to accept something as free. You can't help but feel a little guilty when someone's just handing you something, especially when you know that they could be earning a little bit for that or that it cost them something. You can't help but feel a little selfish when you take something for free...because how is it that your lack of funds exceeds someone else's lack of funds? You could both use a little something here and there, and you know that. So free is tough.
I'm thankful we still have this. I'm thankful there's something in us that recognizes the cost. That understands there really is no such thing as a free lunch - that somewhere, somehow, even the littlest bit cost someone something. It costs the earth its grasses, the cow her milk, the farmer his time, the milkman his gasoline....all to put a glass of milk on your table, even if no one ever transfers a dime. It costs the sheep its wool, the shearer his time, the weaver her skill, the child its labor (sorry), the franchise its shipment, the store its facility...to put clothes on your back, even if they give it away. You see what I'm saying - there is a cost to everything. On some level, we understand that. It's what makes us hesitate (some more than others) about "free."
On the flip side, I have to acknowledge that there are those who have almost no appreciation of the cost. They nose their way through life, taking as much as they can get, giving little, and counting it a victory to not count the cost. You know the kind of people I'm talking about - probably because they make the hair on your neck stand a little meaner. (And if not, you may have to consider that you might be one of them.) They don't seem to appreciate anything because they have this arrogance about them, this sense of entitlement, this super-pride that they can get whatever they want and manipulate their way into getting the world to give it to them. They, too, are an example of why cost matters.
Cost matters because it teaches us to appreciate. It gives us a chance to think about the interconnectedness of everything, to marvel at the way our world is woven together. It gives us an honor to feel our place in the cycle of things - as a consumer, sure, but also as a contributor. As someone whose time, talent, money, investment in what is around us will somewhere down the line fall into the hands of someone who needs it. And appreciates it because they know that even this far back in its early stages, it cost someone something. Cost puts value on what we have, what we do, who we are - and I don't mean a monetary value. It's something more than that.
But the greatest gift of cost is this:
It teaches us to appreciate - truly appreciate - grace. In a world where all is freely given, how can we ever understand the value of grace? But in a world that costs us something...this free gift of God's grace is all-the-more measurable in its inability to be measured. We appreciate it even though it has come freely to us (we have not had to buy it, not had to work for it, not had to given for it - it has been handed to use)...and we appreciate it because we know the cost. It cost the Son His life to put grace on our backs. It cost the Father His Son to put grace on our table. Counting that cost, though we haven't paid a dime, reminds us of the value even of grace. And that's why we have to have a currency. That's why everything can't simply be free (and nothing ever is).
For fear we'd fail to recognize the value - the goodness, the graciousness, the invaluable gift - of something so simple as grace.