Pay What You Want

So often, we simply give what’s expected. There is another way that can bring some surprising results.

I was at my favorite coffee shop last week, when I noticed something a little out of the ordinary. It was an old cigar box next to the cash register. Inside, I saw a lot of different things – a few keys, some coins from a couple different countries, and even an old harmonica. As I reached for my wallet the cashier stopped me. He said that the shop had adopted a new payment structure. I could pay whatever I wanted for my drink.

This policy had unleashed a flood of creativity and allowed customers to not just pay for their drinks, but to give little pieces of themselves in the process.

So often we give by way of payment. We pay what is expected or demanded. It is a transaction. The café has a cup of coffee that I want, so I pay the “going rate”. And we end up doing the same thing in our relationships. You smile at me, I will give you a smile back. You raise your voice at me, expect the same in return. You invite me to dinner, I feel obliged to reciprocate.

But what happens when we free ourselves of such expectations and tit-for-tat transactions in our relational interchanges. What would happen if we apply the “pay what you want” principle to our daily interactions with family, friends and others we meet in our daily lives? Think of the unleashed flood of creativity and generosity that might be put in motion if we give little pieces of ourselves, as I saw in the coffee shop. If we live by a new relationship structure based on a different set of values. A relational economy in which we give according to the care and value we see in the other person. And more than that, giving according to the needs of others, not just giving out of obligation or giving to get. Gracious giving. Giving a smile for a frown, forgiveness for a harsh remark, generosity for meanness.

This is the economy of grace. The economy of the golden rule. Treating others as we would like to be treated. Giving of ourselves out of true gratitude for what others mean to us. Expressing how much we value family members by going beyond the expected thanks or reciprocal deeds. Contributing little bits of ourselves to those who have empty pockets, hearts and lives.

This is the revolution, the turning upside down of life that Jesus Christ brought. He lived and taught a relationship based “economy” and value system. He gave life when he was given death. He still gives us what we need, rather than what we deserve. Because he values us. And he wants us to respond by giving what we want, giving because we value him, not because it is required. And he wants us to treat others the way he treats us.

Have a think about what you have to give to others, especially those closest to you. We have so much of value to give them. And it can be a wonderful surprise to see what results when we give beyond that which is expected or deserved or required.

Joseph Tkach and Phillip Hopwood