A jar full of beans and mercy



Well, it’s begun…the annual tradition of the bean jar.

In our family, we practice loving each other more intentionally during Lent by drawing attention to each others’ sacrifices. When someone makes a sacrifice for another member of the family, we recognize it by having him or her place a bean in the jar. Did you let a brother or sister have the first turn with the toy you both wanted? Bean in the jar! Did you let someone else have the rest of your favorite cereal for breakfast while you made do with leftover oatmeal? Bean in the jar for you! Did you help with the dishes even though it wasn’t your night to do it? Bean in the jar.

The first few days of it always frustrate me to death. The children get really excited and start running to tell me about all of their little sacrifices- Mama! I picked up a crumb off the floor and it wasn’t my crumb! Mama! I put my toys away! Mama! I flushed someone else’s pee down the potty! Beans fly from the bowl to the jar. The bowl gets tipped over. Kids start fighting about whether something they have done “deserves” a bean or not. Honestly, I kind of dread it…the grabby hands, the beans everywhere, the constant interruptions to tell me why they need to put in another bean.

One morning last week, my day started too fast and left me running to catch up. I found myself at the table with my Bible, cramming in my reading between bites while my children were dumping too much cereal into their bowls and spilling it all over the floor.

I decided to read the passage aloud instead of keeping it to myself.

Let us love. 

not in word or speech

but in truth and action.

We talked. What does it look like to love in action? What does it mean if we ignore a chance to help someone? What does it mean that Jesus laid down his life for us? And how should we respond?

A growing realization crept over me as we talked…that this annual flood of bean-related frustration is an opportunity for me to practice the very thing I’m preaching. Even the smallest sacrifice is an act of love. Who cares how many beans they put in? What if we actually run out of beans? Is there a scarcity of beans in the world? Is there a scarcity of love to be shown in action?

Nope. There isn’t. And it isn’t my job to limit the love they show to each other, even in the most seemingly insignificant ways. To limit the beans is to place restrictions on their expressions of God’s love to each other…and that’s not my role. That’s not the mother I want to be. I want to be the mother who shows them that the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love is more than we can grasp…that it surrounds us and wraps us up like the very biggest, fuzzy blanket they can imagine.

I have trouble believing this myself, but I want them to believe it.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea
, the song says.

I can’t really fathom God’s love, but I can picture the sea, stretching as far as I can see in every direction, seemingly limitless.

God’s mercy cannot be counted on beans, even if we had all the beans in the universe and a jar as big as the state of Texas.

And so, let them do their sacrifices. Let them practice love at every opportunity, and let them pile up the beans as high as they will go. This year, I’m sitting back and watching them learn to love each other in action and truth. I’m not limiting the beans. And come Easter, the jar will be brimful and running over with jelly beans- the joyous, sugar-filled sign that God’s abundant love always multiplies what we have to offer and makes it more than enough to go around.

There’s more than enough. We just need to open our hands and our hearts to receive it.


Copyright 2016 Abbey Dupuy.
Image copyright 2016 Abbey Dupuy. All rights reserved.


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  1. Thanks for your comment! He definitely did say that. When we are teaching young children to think of sacrificing for one another and to pay attention to those moments of sacrifice (and how it feels to lay down something for someone else), a physical reminder is helpful. Building habits takes intention. Taking a moment to call their attention to the sacrifice makes them notice how they feel and makes them more likely to do it again. It’s a learning process. Handing out candy or some reward for sacrifices would be something different- the purpose of putting beans in the jar is to help them call their attention to it, not to get a reward. To me, this doesn’t conflict with Jesus’ caution to do these things for God and not for men. After all, we all have to start somewhere, right?

  2. I love this idea. I myself need to use beans too. Sacrificing for others is not as easy as we think. I might start this with my tiny family too.
    Thanks for sharing.

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