In general, I don’t give money to people who are homeless.
I want to help, but I want to help in the most effective way. Everyone is on the streets for a different reason. But since I don’t know their reason, I don’t want to give money that will just be spent on alcohol, or maybe even drugs. Instead, I’ve occasionally offered food: pizza left over from a group meal; a granola bar I happen to have in my car. I’ve also heard it suggested to give a pair of dry socks. Focus on practical needs that you can meet. But handing over cash? That’s not a good idea.
Today, I completely ignored common sense. I gave $20 to homeless women sitting on the side of the road. Pretty silly of me, right?
But here’s the thing. God used that experience–and how I reacted to it–to teach me more about his Kingdom…and what it means to obey him.
It happened on a Saturday morning. I had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of me; headed up to Canada for a weekend work event. I was running late.
I’d just pulled out in the Starbucks parking lot (because, caffeine)… and there she was: sitting on the side of the busy road. I was going to drive away. But I couldn’t. I felt convicted; a tugging at my heart.
My first thought was to give her the breakfast sandwich I’d just bought. But I was hungry. I wanted my breakfast for me.
And I didn’t have any unused socks. All I had in my wallet was my credit cards, a $1 bill and a $20. So I ended up giving her $20.
Just last week, I would have laughed at myself for doing that. Last week, my now ex-boyfriend felt guilty for not giving money to homeless person. And frankly, I didn’t see the big deal. “You don’t have to feel bad,” I told him. “I know the area you saw him in. He probably would use the money for anything good.”
My ex looked at me — his eyes kind and judgment-free, but unashamed to contradict. “That’s not the point,” he told me gently. “I saw him, I felt convicted and I didn’t act. God moved me to give and I ignored him.”
And when I saw the homeless woman sitting there, I felt convicted. Those words rang through my head. I knew I had to do something. So I got out of the car, walked over, reached out and handed her $20.
But I didn’t want to leave it there. I was going to be better than that. “How can I pray for you?” I asked her.
The woman looked at me like that was the last thing she ever expected to come out of my mouth. She thought a while, then asked for prayer that she could get back to her family on the other side of the state.
I had her prayer request, but I needed one more thing. “What’s your name?” I asked her. “Janelle,” she replied. “It’s nice to meet you, Janelle,” I said. “I’ll be praying for you.”
I walked away, got back in my car, and promptly went on my way. Pray for Janelle and that she can reunite with her family. Good deed? Check. Now, I needed to get going.
If only I could do it all again. I wish I hadn’t been so quick to leave.
What’s more, I wish I wouldn’t have just stood over her as she sat there on the sidewalk–leaning over to talk to her like some sort of child. Extending a crinkled $20 as a symbol of my great magnanimity, all the while not able to be bothered to (literally or figuratively) get on her level.
I wish it would’ve crouched down to look at Janelle eye-to-eye; woman-to-woman. I wish I would’ve asked about her family. Who are they? What do they do? If they’re on the other side of the state, how did she end up here?
From what I’ve learned about homelessness, the defining factor is how dehumanized it makes you feel. Others seem to view you as less than human. You’re seen as some lazy, cheating, drug-addicted beggar. But not a person. Not as someone of value. Someone with a name … a story … a family.
I know all of this. But I could still only be bothered to give Janelle 20 seconds of my day before I rushed off.
I wish I would’ve asked about her story. And wish it would show have taken the time to show her that she has value. That I see her as a person; as worthy of being paid attention to and shown love. Because she is loved. She is a beloved and precious child of God.
I’m glad I asked what her name was … sure. I’m glad to let her know that someone cares to see her, to ask if they can pray for her. But I wish it wouldn’t have been so quick to scamper away.
Good deed done. Now, time to flutter off and go on my merry little way.
Yes, I had a work event three hours away. Yes, it was up in Canada. The border crossing was bound to be backed up. I was worried about being late.
But does that really matter? It’s a Saturday. The event would last from noon to 10 PM. I would be there all day. I’ll be working all day. It would be more than okay for me to show up 20 minutes late to work because I’d taken the time to show Janelle a bit of human dignity. To communicate that she mattered.
I don’t want my vision – my priorities – to get in the way of what God desires for me to do. I want to hear his voice and act. To live into what his will is for me.
Doing God’s will isn’t just checking items off the checklist. It’s taking the time to be in relationship. It’s showing people they matter. That they’re valuable. They’re loved. And that they’re seen.
Seen by a loving heavenly father cares deeply about each and every one, no matter what they’ve done. No matter how many mistakes they’ve made. No matter what secrets they think they have to hide. They are loved. They are valued. They are more than enough.
The kingdom of God, salvation is for them. And I was too busy running late for work.
Lord, give me ears to hear your voice. To understand the fullness of your command, and to not be afraid or too busy or too self absorbed to act.