I went in skeptical of the new “Anne with an E” TV series. The book and original movie are both dear to my heart, mostly because I pretty much am Anne, minus the red hair and elderly adoptive parents. Besides constant daydreaming, pretentious vocabulary words, tree-climbing, and general humorous-accident-prone-ness, the day after I watched the movie, I decked a boy in the head with my plastic lunch box for making fun of me. While Anne has lots of worthy traits, this, according to my horrified mom, was not the right one to emulate.
The point is, I’ve actually been impressed with the series. If you’re okay with a shade of melodrama in the earlier episodes (which feels realistic if you live or work with an adolescent girl), there is a depth and humanness to the show that delight me. (Also, Gilbert is more adorable than ever, which yes, is actually possible.)
For those who haven’t watched it, this isn’t a real spoiler, but in one episode, Matthew and Marilla are having financial difficulties, and in true sharp-tongued spinster form, Marilla informs everyone who shows up to help that “Cuthberts do not accept charity.”
At one point, Aunt Josephine Barry hides money in a book she gives to Anne, with the elegantly-scripted note, “Love is not charity.”
My first thought: That is so sweet.
My second thought: That is so…linguistically inaccurate.
Because love is literally charity, Latin word origin roots and all. That’s why the King James Version translates standby chapters like 1 Corinthians 13 differently than we’re used to: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Especially when used to refer to acts of kindness between people, charity is interchangeable with love.
Okay, you say, but in modern times we’ve taken charity in the pure, dictionary sense and loaded it with other connotations, including accepting handouts, being a burden on others, and anything else that might hurt our pride, so the meaning has changed.
I’m all about words meaning what people think of when they hear them, but what we’ve done to the word “charity” is kind of terrible when you think about it. We’ve switched things completely backward, so “charity” becomes less about selfless giving and more about lazily taking. We’ve made a vice out of a virtue.
And do you know why? Because we’ve decided it’s shameful to be in need.
Think about it. If you’re uncomfortable with the thought of someone helping you—financially or even with advice or care or time—it’s because you’d rather do it yourself. You don’t want anyone to know that there’s something you can’t do alone.
At the end of the day, we don’t like to need others. Sometimes we don’t even like to need God.
I say this from personal experience. Sure, I have other idols, but the sneakiest one of all is self-reliance. There are days I won’t speak up in small group to ask for prayer, when I lie about how I’m feeling because it’s less complicated than trying to explain, and when I serve and give and take care of everyone around me without wanting to admit that I need any of that myself.
Anybody else out there with me?
If you’re denying it, I’m probably talking to you. I’m talking to you if you hate admitting that you’re needy, that you can’t do it alone, that you might not have all the answers.
We’re in this together, you and I. But I’m here to tell you that, no matter what our culture says, this is not a noble quality. It’s an idol. It’s a trap. And it’s a dangerous place for our souls. I will say, with Anne, that you have to let people love you…and let God love you.
Even knowing this, I have my Marilla days, where I’m perfectly able to work hard and dismiss my deep-seated issues with snarky comments. And I have lots of Anne days where I’d prefer to do things on my own and don’t like accepting advice.
That’s pride. We’ve made a vice into a virtue.
I wonder if some people reject the cross for the same reason others embrace it: because it’s not something we can earn.
It’s charity. It’s the deepest, truest form of love that can’t be repaid or deserved, generous beyond what even those of us with considerable imagination could ever dream up. The very thing that should make us humble and grateful instead tends to make us defensive and prideful.
So this is just a reminder for those of you like me: unworthiness is a gift. Not just in the big things, like salvation—Christians are usually okay with that—but in the little ones. In the fact that we need sleep and food and community. In the challenges to let others serve you and the courage to risk vulnerability. In the everyday sort of humility that announces over our persistent shortcomings and second-try attempts, “When I am weak, he is strong.”
Love is charity—we just have to learn how to accept it.