Monday, January 3, 2011

You've Asked Me This Before

While fueling up at a gas station in South Bend yesterday I noticed a man approaching me. Deep in the recesses of my brain I thought he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him until he began to speak. With a unique nasal tone in his voice and obsequious mannerisms he began by saying “this is really embarrassing, I never thought this would happen to me...” and in a few words explained how he had run out of gas and was hoping I could spare some change to help him get to St. Joseph (about 30 miles away). Without a trace of remorse I flatly told him “No – you’ve asked me this before.” The expression on his face as he withdrew, stammering that he was pretty sure he had never been in this situation before, was one of the most amusing I have seen. Yet later I wondered If I should have taken a different approach.

Several weeks ago I was leaving Wall Mart in Benton Harbor and was approached by this same individual with the exact same phrases, tone of voice, and mannerisms (except that he was going to Niles; also a 30 mile trip). I have always been leery to give money directly to beggars for fear that its use would not be a wise investment of the Lord’s money. Nonetheless, ever wanting to help, I offered to put some gas in his car figuring that, true story or not, at least he wouldn’t use it for alcohol or drugs. I was startled when he refused this offer and again asked for money using the excuse that there was no gas station right where we were. I pointed out to him that he would need to go to a gas station to get gas anyway, and that the nearest one was less than half a mile away. After a couple more excuses as to why money would be better than gasoline (each less convincing than the previous one) I left him.

How can you help someone like this? It seems like it would be much easier if a person were honest in their request. If someone is holding a sign “will work for food” and they accept food or work with grateful enthusiasm then it would be much easier to justify spending time and resources to help them out of a difficult situation... but what if, as is often (if not usually) the case, this kind of sign is not an honest representation of their goal and they merely use it to get cash handouts? Certainly they still need help – perhaps more than an “honest” beggar... but they may not want or even know what sort of help they need.

Sometimes I find myself asking God for things that I think I want and then not being as appreciative as I should of what he offers me (if indeed I recognize and appreciate it at all). Despite my ingratitude He continues to reach out to me and to instill in my heart a desire for what He knows I really need.

How can I follow this example next time an “embarrassed” man with a nasal voice asks me for change?