Friday, June 27, 2008

A friend from Michigan...

was sharing this week that she had never seen so many people without work and financial problems. She said "I think for the first time in my 36 years I am seeing the need for myself and my church to help. But I am having a hard time and I almost feel resentment when people walk up to me and ask for odd jobs or money or food." She also shared the following words from a blog she reads on a regular basis. Little did she know that I had just asked God to show me how to deal with being seen as a dollar tree by many of the people around me.
Freehand giving
by Rosemary ~ June 23rd, 2008
As I was loading several bags of groceries into my car, I heard a voice behind me saying, Excuse me, ma’am.” I turned to see a thin woman and a weary-looking boy, his skinny legs sticking out of his shorts. In her hands the woman held a cantaloupe that another shopper had given her. I had seen them talking to her, and hoped I could get away before she got to me. “Could you help me? I hate to ask but I need money to buy food for my children and get by until payday.”
Excepting the time we lived in Nepal, I’ve always had a policy of not giving money to people who approach me or stand at the side of the street begging. I don’t trust what they’ll do with the money.
“I’m sorry; no,” I said to her, feeling guilty that I refused her. Here I was, loading bags and bags of food for my family into the car, and there she was with her skinny, hungry son. The contrast was glaring. Besides that, I had been reading Piper’s What Jesus Demands From the World and these words were running through my head:
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” ~Luke 6:30
Piper wrote: It seems to me that in all the complexity of life that can easily help us rationalize disobedience to these commands, we should default to literal obedience when we are unsure of what love calls for. For example, should I give to those who ask for money on the street in my context in urban America? How do I “do good” to those who ask? Jesus did not seem to be as concerned about being taken advantage of as I am (Matt. 5:40,42). I am often angered by the lies I am being told. But I do not think this is the spirit of Jesus.
I think the spirit of Jesus would first feel compassion even for a skilled liar. Then it would desire to move into the life of that liar with the good news that Jesus came into the world to save liars. Then it would try, if the other demands of love allow, to engage the person more deeply and, if possible, take him somewhere to eat together and talk. If that is not possible, then love may give freely even knowing the person is a con artist. And at times love may say no–for example, if the person has been back many times and has proven to be a liar and consistently refused a relationship of love. But my point is, when these things are less clear, the spirit of Jesus seems to me to call for freehand giving.
I looked in my purse to see what cash I had. A $5 bill and two singles. Skeptically, obediently, (almost) free-handedly, I grabbed the five and went after the woman. “You’re going to use this to buy food, right?”
“Yes, ma’am; thank you. God bless you, ma’am.”
I handed her the money and returned to my car. When I finished loading my groceries, I turned to see where the woman and her son were. The melon had been dumped into an abandoned cart, and they were far across the parking lot, on their way to somewhere. Obviously they weren’t very hungry or they wouldn’t have left the melon behind.
Right. I had been taken. Duped. The woman was a con artist who used the boy, whom I assume was her son, as a tool of her trade. I watched them walk away; taking my hard-earned money to use for goodness knows what. It ticked me off.
I despise being taken advantage of, so my immediate response was angry regret. Feeling naive and stupid, I drove home thinking about what had just happened. I wished that I had given the two dollars instead of the five. I should kept to my first answer and not been so impulsive. I should have grabbed the stupid cantaloupe so it wouldn’t go to waste.
After several minutes of spouting off, it occurred to me: my obedience wasn’t undermined by the woman’s response; it could only be undermined by my response. The spirit of Jesus calls for freehand giving. Whatever I have has been freehandedly given to me, without regret. How can I do anything less?As far as I know this was more about my giving and trusting God with the results, than whatever actually happened with the woman and boy. Only God knows what took place in their lives, which may have been little or much. But if I see them again and they ask me for money, I wonder if they’ll take me up on my offer to buy them lunch and talk for a while.

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