Pay It Forward (MLA 3)

Rob Lewis tells of one person who paid goodness forward in a donut shop.

On the day the governor of Illinois issued the Corona induced shelter in place order, I met at Dunkin Donuts with someone struggling to make ends meet. He ordered coffee, and I suggested he get a half dozen donuts for his family. He ordered two each of Chocolate Creme, Glazed Jelly, and Bavarian Cream. While the cashier grabbed the donuts, we exchanged a few words with an elderly gentleman wearing an ear flap trapper hat. We were the only customers. As I pulled out my wallet to pay, he told the cashier, “I want to pay for these guys. Someone did something for me once, and I want to do the same for them.

“What do you call it?” he asked, looking at me. “Pay it ahead?”

“I think you mean, ‘Pay it forward,’” I said. The cashier then told the three of us to stop congregating, and to get out.

“That sure was nice of him,” said my friend. “He didn’t even know us.”

Perhaps our conversation brought on a generous urge in our benefactor. Or a feeling of solidarity with someone else risking their life for a donut. Maybe he recognized I was helping someone in need. If so, none of these was the primary reason.

What prompted his generosity was gratitude for a previous generosity extended to him. He had not forgotten this one act of kindness.

What impressed me was the spontaneity of the gesture. He didn’t have time to think about what he was doing, or consider his motivation, “I am doing a good thing here,” or “I want to help people less privileged than me.” Seeing us triggered a memory of a kindness extended to him.

“He didn’t even know us.” That was the point. Kindness to strangers is not based on who the person is to you but what is in your heart.

“The good man brings good things out of the good treasure of his heart,” says Jesus (Luke 6:45). Jesus reveals the source of goodness. And how goodness works in us. It is not the good deeds themselves that make a good person (although good deeds may be a stimulus to becoming a better person), but the goodness we have received from God through his people.

True goodness manifests in spontaneous good deeds which are not pre-meditated, and are looking neither for reward nor recognition.  It’s simply paying it forward.