The 3rd Pillar of Islam has got nothing on me! Zakat, being the giving of tithes and/or alms, is similar for Christianity. Simply put, it is pretty well assumed that Christians are supposed to give to the poor.
With all of the philanthropic giving by Americans to churches and organizations, very little actually arrives into the hands of the intended recipients. (Often monies are whittled down by “administrative expenses” and such.
Though often unspoken, it is generally acknowledged among American givers that we have become pretty cynical to give to the poor.
Something happened today that illustrates this.
Coming out of my local grocery store, I saw a lady struggling in a wheel chair by herself. She was not elderly and decrepit, but she was certainly having difficulty.
Initially I kept walking. Something made me stop. (AKA, God really shamed me for being so hard-hearted. That and I thought that one day may be one of my parents trying to get along.) I guess He wants me to work on being tender-hearted.
So, I asked if she needed me to help her. She did. And I began to wheel her to her desired destination.
As we went, she told me that she had just moved here, that her food stamps had not come in, and if I would give her money for food.
What do you think I did?
Made up a lame excuse, got her to her destination and went to my car is what I did! Honestly. That is what I did. There was not a single ounce of sympathy or empathy.
Starting my car, I headed to the exit, when that Tugging happened again in my heart. What is this, thing?! Oh, God wanting me to be more tender-hearted. Thoughts flooded to mind:
What does it matter if she is trying just to get cash from you? Charity isn’t so much for the recipient as much as the giver. What does it matter if you saw SERIOUSLY poor people in India, Kenya and Vietnam? And, what happened to just plain ol’ giving?!
You are right, God. I should.
I whipped my car around and pulled up next to where the lady was. She was speaking to someone else trying to get money. Embarrassed for her, I circled the parking lot once more.
When I arrived, I told her I would pick her up something for breakfast from the grocery store. Now, here is why I am cynical.
She begins to custom order something. “Well, I really like sausage, and eggs, and cheese. But nothing too tough on my stomach. Something that…” and on she went for a moment. And not in the way that someone who is appreciatively excited. It was more in line with loading up your plate at a all-you-can eat buffet with no regard to the server.
Shrugging the critical thoughts that began creeping into my mind, I smiled, said ‘sure’, and made my way. I had taken about 10 steps when she called out.
“There is ONE thing you could do for me.”
“What’s that?” I asked in a way to hide the fact that I knew she would ask for 1 more thing.
“I could use some cigarettes,” she began.
I cut her off. “I am not going to buy you cigarettes, ma’am.” I knew it! I thought.
I purchased her a bagel and cream cheese, some granola bars, an orange juice, a water, a banana and an apple. Handing her the bag, I pointed out some of the items, we chit-chatted, and with a “God bless” I was off and got into the car.
Now, you tell me how wrong I am, and I won’t argue, but all I could think of was, “this woman is not poor!”
“I have seen the poor and destitute, not able to lift their arm because of their weakness. Were someone to offer them something, anything, a moving caterpillar or foul mushrooms, they would eat it. They would not debate it, because their lack of calories would not allow them. All they could muster would be to lift their skeletal arm and bring that thing to their mouth.
“I have seen the poor, and this is not it.”
As I drove away, I was glad that I heeded the Lord, but border-line bitter. I brought my inner turmoil to Him, begging for some relief.
“Giving has more to do with the giver than the receiver.” And you can see that being true I guess. I guess that so many people scurry away from the poor and destitute when asked for change. They are uncomfortable with the thought of, gasp, helping the poor.
Maybe we are broke.
Maybe we don’t have much extra money.
Maybe we are in a hurry.
Maybe it is out of the norm.
But what does that say about us? What does that say about where we are at internally? What does it say about what we value?
Does anyone know how good it feels sometimes to really give something with ZERO expected return? I know that this particular instance was a bummer and drove me to bitterness and cynicism, but half of that is from ME!
Giving is about the giver. It speaks more about where the giver is at. Who knows why the poor are poor. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is where we are at as a society of individuals, and what our willingness to give indicates.
Take time this week to give to someone. Don’t give cash, because you know how awkward you feel. Give something to them that they could seriously use and benefit them. It doesn’t take much. And give to a person or in a way that you know that there is no way you will ever be repaid.
Let me know how it goes and how it makes you feel!