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Picking Up Pennies

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

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I always pick up a penny if I see one lying on the ground. In my head, I can hear my mother's voice chanting one of her little sayings: "Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck." There is more to the saying than that, but you get the idea. I save the pennies, along with other found coins and loose change, in an old Skippy peanut butter jar that was my father's. It has a slit in the metal lid, and the coins make a satisfying plink when they drop into the jar. My father came of age during the Depression, and saved everything. I learned this habit from him, along with encouragement from my mother's little proverb.

A penny? Why bother? My kids say to me. They find this habit of mine most embarrassing. Even a nickel or a dime doesn't tempt them. And so I go around the house on cleaning day picking up the change they can't be bothered with: a dime on the chair, a penny on the TV room floor, a nickel in the sofa cushions. Every six months or so I take my Skippy jar to the bank and dump the coins into the change-counting machine. It gives me a receipt for which the bank teller gives me dollars. Not a huge number of dollars. Not enough to pay for college tuition, or the summer vacation. But enough for a pizza dinner for the family - or a ticket to the Art museum -or some flowers for the garden path.

In our culture we are taught to cultivate dissatisfaction. We learn to focus on what we want, rather than what we have. We have a mentality of scarcity, even though we live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is more than a material problem - it is also a spiritual problem. We have so much, and we enjoy it so little.

But for those of us who live within a spiritual tradition, the message is not that of scarcity, but of divine presence in all of life. In one of the most often quoted passages in the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples not to be anxious. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." There are many blessings that surround us, even though they may be small ones. A beautiful flower - a loving friend - a drink of water in the heat or a warm blanket in the chilly night. If we cultivate the habit of gathering these small blessings as they come our way, we may find that we have enough. We may find that sense of contentment itself is the richest blessing of all.