It’s a discussion that goes on all the time and Facebook comments run rampant with the best solution on how to decide whether or not to help out that beggar or homeless person or man with the cardboard sign or the lady with the sad family story.
We’ve all heard it before.
Veteran with no money. Need job.
Single mom of 3 kids. No money. Please help.
Homeless and hungry.
Need money and food.
Will work for food.
Need cash for weed.
Hey, at least he was honest.
And maybe they all are. But how do you know? How can you be sure that they actually need help?
And then the discussion explodes.
We create the list. Here’s what you need to prove in order to get my help. As long as you’re legitimately needy, perfectly helpless, have lived a perfect life in destitution, haven’t taken advantage of anyone, aren’t doing anything illegal, and are totally down and out (and not of your own doing, of course), then…maybe then I can help.
As long as you have the most selfless intentions, then, then alone, will I give you help since now my sense of justice is fulfilled.
Because I’m the final judge of whether or not you deserve goodness. I mean, why in the world would anyone help someone who didn’t even deserve it? If I’m going to give you something for free then you must allow me to have the totally selfless satisfaction that I am a real do-gooder for the betterment of society.
Ok. Let’s stop.
Can we please remove the totally fake mask covering this whole discussion? And this is the very mask I’ve gone to grips with in my own life and heart. Why don’t we just verbalize what’s really going on in our heads? It’s then we realize how judgmental it can be.
The proof of love and pure goodness is how we do love and do good to the poor and destitute when they least deserve it. Because one day I have to realize that I am one of those least deserved. That what separates me from them is one series of unfortunate events, or perhaps a slow series of bad decisions. Just as I have the same potential to be in their state, so they have the potential to be in mine. And as the one with the stronger hold on life, it’s my responsibility to care for the poor.
It’s not Salvation Army’s responsibility.
It’s not the government’s.
It’s not the missionary church’s.
It’s yours. It’s mine. The future and health of our cities and neighborhoods are under our ownership. Do you believe this? Do I?
I know, there are so many hard questions around this topic.
I can’t help everybody. Who do I help?
I get this. I’m single, I’m a woman, I don’t have much money, I don’t have many resources. None of those, however, are limitations. It’s just how I have to think about my approach to helping. So for me, it’s simply been the choice to love the one in front of you. Be intentional about it and be prepared. Don’t drive to the homeless section of town when you haven’t reached out to your coworker who you know struggles as a single-mom and is constantly stressed about making ends meet. Start with that person. And walk into the opportunities that follow.
So you’re saying that every person that asks me for money, food, etc… I should give to them, just like that?
Great question. How about this: we instead initiate to ask the needy and poor how we can help them. Novel! You know what this does? It gives us a sense of purpose and intentionality. We can now plan. We can put it in our budget and focus. It also makes things clear so we can say no to certain things and yes to the ones we want to focus on. It’s ok to say no. But do it because you already know where your help is going, not because of pure judgement.
I feel guilty because I have this sense of compassion for everyone I see that needs help and it’s overwhelming! Maybe I should just stifle that feeling?
As a human, this should be natural and normal. Be so careful of squelching compassion because soon you will be totally empty. We are all built with an innate sense of compassion, some cultures nurturing it more than others. We also all have a sense of goodness when we give. Again, though, the more you live in selfishness, and some in real evil, the more this will be silenced altogether. So it’s ok to hurt for those you can’t do anything about. But what you can do, do well and with your whole heart.
For children of God and those in relationship with Jesus, it’s such a real, (super)natural reaction, because once we have chosen God and live in the reality of the wonderful life He has so graciously gifted us, we see and love others through His eyes of love. And He loves the world best and the most of all. He’s pretty awesome at love.
Giving isn’t my gift.
If you have the gift of life, you have the gift of giving. You have something to offer. It will look different from me and from the person next to you. But we all have the responsibility to help those that are weaker than us, for the vulnerable. Your gift might not be money, but it may be time, or an open house, or that extra bike, or homemade Pinterest caramel brownies. Not only is it God’s loving command (there’s so much happiness and joy in it!) but it takes us to a deeper level of relationship with him. His nature is giving to those that are most undeserving, like you and I. He chose us in our worst state! Does this not inspire to give and love others into the kingdom??
But I might be taken advantage of.
I’ve struggled through this on so many levels. I’ve heard this on blog posts, Facebook comments, Sunday school lessons, coffee conversations, and all from people with good intentions. This guy asked me for money for food and then I realized he was a druggie, so I said no. Whew, almost enabled someone!
Do you have any idea what just happened? Someone who clearly has major problems asks you for something superficial, and based off the knowledge of deeper problems he has, you choose to reject helping him with the surface issue while totally ignoring the huge, major issue that you’ve already discovered! Perhaps he needs someone to ask him if he would like someone to walk with him to a local rehab center. Perhaps she needs someone to speak truth into her life of what she was created to be, of how much she is loved, by you and God. Perhaps he needs a weekly friend to stop by and talk for 15 minutes, and when he’s ready to give up his life for a better one, you will be he one he goes to.
Maybe we need to apply our intelligence and knowledge and lead them to a path of what they truly need. It creates purpose and hope. Walking away is easy, but it never gives hope. And giving hope is often really awkward and super uncomfortable. But it’s the path to freedom.
We settle with way too little. We desperately cling to our sense of justice and fear of being taken advantage of.
How big is your love? How much can it take? Often, the point here is not necessarily the helping itself; it’s the times when you are betrayed and lied to and taken advantage of, and then…you could walk away totally justified. Or, you have the chance to look them in the eye and say, “I still choose to love you and forgive you and offer the best help for you.” That is when pure love and goodness is on display for the world.
And it takes radical love to change the world, your city, your neighborhood.
And I am not saying this from a narrow positive opportunist viewpoint, totally naive to the realities of misuse. I’ve been the recipient of lies and betrayal in very deep ways. In life, family, friendships, work, dating relationships. And this isn’t just “the past.” Recently I lived under the lies and manipulation of a guy I was in a relationship with, and lived with the subsequent emotional trauma of betrayal.
I get it. It doesn’t feel good. The natural response is to run, to protect yourself from any other hurt in the future, to assume the worst of people.
This is when your love shows up. Was it all about what you could get out of it? Or was it about you choosing to live love without expectations and demands? It’s hard. You’ll mess up, get messy, be exposed to really uncomfortable situations, and have to face your own fears. It’s awkward and confusing. You yourself will have to be needy on wisdom, on God, on others to help you.
But at the end of the day you will know that you chose love. And whether it looks like a giftcard or money or buying groceries or opening up your guest room or throwing dinner parties to the least of these or offering your business expertise or even just a word of encouragement and a prayer, it is all never in vain.
Watch not just your life open up, but your heart. Watch your neighborhood change, your city catch the fever. As William Wilborforce, leader of societal reform in England and the end of international slave trade, said,
Let’s make goodness fashionable.