This afternoon I went thru a drive thru for lunch - not healthy, I know - and after getting my sack of greasy food and pulling down the drive, a man waved to get my attention. He was disheveled, had only a few teeth and he asked if I had some change to spare so he could go inside the restaurant and get a burger. I replied that I only had a few cents and he walked off while I drove away, back to the office to eat and finish my day. No sooner had I stopped at the first red light when I started thinking about why I reacted the way I did. I didn't roll down my window to talk to that man, and I didn't give him the change that I had (I honestly didn't have any cash since I had spent the last of it at the drive thru, but I probably had 75 cents or so in my change purse). Why not? I always want to talk about integrity and "walking the walk" of being a Christian, but how short I fall so many times!
In dissecting my reaction to him, I understood that my initial response was fear. I have been taught to fear people who like this man looked - whether from my parents, friends, television or a combination. Even when going out on "mission trips" we are taught that some people are okay to help and others are dangerous. Where does this distinction come from? Who gets to decide who is okay to help and who isn't? How do we overcome our fear? What exactly is it that we're afraid of? The most obvious situation that comes to my mind is that one of "those people" may be dangerous and hurt us in some way, perhaps even killing us. Or perhaps we'll give them money to get food and instead they'll use it to buy drugs or alcohol or something else we find unsemly. Hmmm. More judgement.
The trite phrase "What would Jesus do?" often gets brought up at moments like these (and indeed, popped into my own head while I had this conversation with myself) but I honestly don't know if the Bible is really a place to look for this kind of answer. Yes, we know that Jesus helped a lot of people in various ways, but does it say that Jesus helped EVERY person he came across? Did Jesus share spare change with the first beggar on the street and have none for the others he met? Or did Jesus not have any spare change always counting on charity where he stayed - in which case, what did he do fo the beggars? Did Jesus have some way of choosing which people he helped and which ones he didn't? In some stories we are told he sees the spirit possessing the person he helps, or the person's faith is what causes action. Am I supposed to know if the man asking me for change has faith? What are my criteria and how many people can I honestly help if they meet them? I can give everything I own away and still not have enough to help just the people here in Kansas City who need it, and then I'd be a person in need myself. Is my responsibility to take care of them while still taking care of myself OR JUST TO TAKE CARE OF THEM regardless of what it means for me? A lot of questions, I know. Welcome to how my brain works. :)
In the end, I'm not proud of what I did today and I want to work on checking my fear as soon as it happens. I think I have decent instincts that will help me decide when it's appropriate to be afraid and take caution and when I need to push my comfort zone and really help that person - especially if they take enough risk to ask me directly. In the end it's about balancing my care for myself with caring for others. We all have to find the balance that works for us, but I want to challenge myself - and you - to really look at the balance you've been living out and whether you really think it's enough. Perhaps you can give more and stretch that comfort zone a little more often. Perhaps you give of yourself so much that you're not really able to get by on your own anymore. Maybe you're entirely okay with where you are - but have you thought about it and really made that decision consciously?