Tuesday's To Do

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Explain the Selfish post

I left out some important words: safely and responsibly. Specifically, my last sentence should read, "Whenever I can, safely and responsibly." A friend told me a story which brought this to my attention.

My friend, "X" was at a gas station late at night with another female friend. As she filled her tank, a man approached, told a story about a broken down car, and asked for money. X said, "Sorry," but the other girl gave him some cash. X felt shame - her friend gave, but she did not. Was she a hard-hearted person? Later, she learned that the man who approached her frequents that gas station, with the same story, every day. There was no broken down car. The man's story was a lie.

But, X did not feel justified. She felt frustrated. She stood by her decision to listen to her instincts and not give, and yet there was her friend - giving. Her friend explained that she gave the man cash because she believes that if someone is asking for money, they must have a need; therefore, you should give. She didn't really care about the truth of the story. X wondered if she was wrong to care about the truth of the story, the sincerity of the need. She wondered if her refusal made her cold, and after reading my "Selfish" post, she asked me what I thought about giving to strangers.

Here is part of what I said to her:

My point in the "Selfish" post was not that I would do things differently. I would not. If I saw that same guy on the street, I still would not give him any money. . . My real point was that giving shouldn't be about making me feel good, because that is selfish. I wasn't justifying that man calling me selfish. It was just that he reminded me that those in need won't always be easy to give to. They may be repulsive, suspicious, or they may appear beyond help. But as a good Christian, I should not turn a blind eye because they gross me out, freak me out, or make me mad. I should give - but responsibly. I should have explained that better. I give to organizations that help the homeless, and my encounter with the homeless man in Chicago made me want to give more to those organizations; not because he made me feel good about giving, but for the opposite reason - he reminded me that giving isn't about ME. It shouldn't be about me getting a hug or a thank you or even a guarantee that my gift will be used appropriately. It should be about me trying to live a life like Jesus - serving others and helping those who are considered outcasts by society. But I don't think God calls us to be irresponsible or to simply throw money at problems. It is a fine line.

Does any of that make sense? I'm rambling. I think God gives us safety instincts for a reason, and you were right to listen to them. You should not feel shame just because your friend ended up giving the guy money. I bet if you were in a store, and a mother ahead of you in line with crying babies was $10 short, you would cover it for her. Maybe it would be that the lady is $10 short because she spent all her money on drugs, or maybe it is just that she is $10 short. You don't really know, but in different situations you can safely take that risk.

So, what do you all think?
Always give to strangers? Never give to strangers?

How do you balance the risk inherent in giving cash to a stranger (you don't know how it will be spent) against the need before your eyes? Does it depend on the circumstances - time of day, cash on hand, safety? Do circumstances matter?

P.S. I wrote all this one week ago. On Thanksgiving day, I read a post on (in)courage, about what another woman experienced when she gave to a stranger. Her last sentence is great. Check it out.

Giving Day 30 - I think this post pretty well sums it up! Our 30-Day Giving Challenge ends with discussing the challenges associated with giving. Let's discuss, encourage one another, and then dive into this giving season with spirits refreshed.

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