P.S. Please hold me to this. I am not the best at following through, especially when it means putting my heart on the line. Friends have elbows for a reason. Feel free to nudge.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" - Matthew 25:37-40
I am overwhelmed with guilt. Today I had the chance to serve "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine," and I failed. When I was out on an errand for work downtown, I was approached by an elderly African American woman with ragged clothes and a limp who asked if I had a dollar to spare. One dollar. I said "sorry," turned away, and walked into my place of work (that's right, at a rescue mission).
Ever since I turned away, I have felt a strong sense of shame and embarrassment. I can't believe I didn't stop, open my purse, and check to see if I actually had cash (which I did, by the way). How could I just keep walking like that without even thinking twice? Homelessness and poverty are my passions. I can get on my soapbox and talk for hours about how important social services are, and how the church needs to be doing more to help the poor, but when I'm actually faced with the issue directly, I become a hypocrite. I'm so embarrassed.
So now I'm wondering: why did I do that? Why is it my instinct to turn away or ignore someone who approaches me on the street and asks for a dollar? It's clearly not how I want to respond. It's definitely not how Christ would respond. I absolutely have a dollar to spare for someone in need. Heck, I have a dollar to spare for a millionaire. So why did I turn and run?
Let me be honest. I grew up in the suburban Midwest. I participated in church from AWANA to youth group, attended Christian college in a cornfield, and almost all of my friends have similar backgrounds to this. My personal experience in the inner city is very limited, even though I'd like to pretend that's not true. I grew up being taught that homeless people and those who beg on the streets are most likely on drugs. Or if not, then maybe they deserve it somehow. So is that why I can't open my purse?
I've spent the last three years reading about homelessness, working firsthand with mentally ill people in poverty, and learning about the barriers that poor people face that are completely out of their control. I know that not all homeless people are on drugs. I know it. This is what is driving me crazy.
And even if this woman was a drug addict, does that mean that Jesus would have just walked away from her? Absolutely NOT. Duh. I bet he would have put his arm around her, given her a bus pass, and treated her to McDonald's. Why can't I be like that? I struggle so much with knowing how to interact directly with homeless people when I'm not somehow "on duty." Dear God, please show me how to love people like you do!
Basically ever since the interaction this afternoon, I have been asking God to give me another chance to boldly show His love to a homeless person. And that is why I decided to write this blog. I want everyone to know my shame so I will be held accountable to act differently next time. I hope you find some encouragement in this post. If you don't ever interact with homeless people, then maybe you need to put yourself in a situation where you will. See what happens. And if you're someone who already opens your purse every time, God bless you. I sincerely pray that one day that will be me.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully I will be able to write a more positive story soon.