Monday, April 09, 2007

If You Give a Man a Muffin

There is a man I see often in our neighborhood.
I assume he is homeless, although that may not be the case.

He has a distinctive way of asking for money. I can't accurately portray the lilt in his voice, the way he emphasizes certain phrases in his refrain, but the words go like this:

"Can you please spare some money. I need some money for (insert closest meal). Even a penny. Just a penny. Any food. I'd appreciate some food."

It sticks in my head.

Now, I struggle with the best way to show Christ's love to the homeless people and beggars that I encounter every day. I've read books like Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, which says that helping is simple--you follow Jesus' instructions in Matthew 5:42 "Give to the one who asks you." But I've also read the stats that show that close to 90% of money given to beggars goes to drug and alcohol purchases. And surely, giving money to support life- destroying habits isn't helping anyone. I think of the Good Samaritan, who not only gave money to the person in need, but checked up on him and entered into his life for a time. But then there is the fact that I'm a woman with two young children at my side, and (untreated) mentally ill people are often unpredictable and sometimes unsafe...and who would I be helping by putting us in a dangerous situation?

So we usually choose to give our money to organized not-for-profits who help people in need, and we look forward to the day when our church community can be active volunteers in those same organizations.

Some of you may read that and think my reasons are poor excuses for my inaction.

Some of you may read that and think there is wisdom in our decision.

Either way, it still pains me to walk by people who are begging for money.

Back to the guy.
One evening last week, I was kid-free and on my way to the marriage group that Steve and I are leading. And there was the guy. Asking for dinner. "Any food. I'd appreciate some food."

"Well," thought I. "He's asking for food. I can get the man some food."
I turned back and steered into the convenience store, thinking I would buy him a sandwich. No sandwiches there, but I did find some muffins the size of softballs. I got all motherly and nutritionally minded then. Hmmm, which muffin? Not blueberry... no nutrition there to speak chocolate chip, either...Right. Here we go. Whole grain with fruit and nuts. Perfect. Fiber, protein...we're set. It weighed about half a pound.

I strode out and handed the fellow his muffin.
He looked at me.
"I can't eat this. I need money. For dinner. That's why I asked for money."

Wait. I thought he had said, "Any food?"

Oh. Right. He wanted money. Of course he wanted money.

And I was angry. Ungrateful man. Lying man. And I went out of my way for him, and now I'm late. He'll probably just throw that muffin away. A waste of $2...

But I know better. I do. And I'm happy to say that I checked myself quickly (more quickly than I would have, even a year ago.)

Do I give simply to receive the gratitude of the recipient?
No, I give because Christ first gave to me.

And for too long, I was the most ungrateful of all.
And so often, I still am.


Michelle said...

I've always struggled with that when I've gone to big cities. It's hard to know what to do. Keep praying about it! It is something you need to face that we country girls aren't used to!

"If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a life time." Are you just feeding into the problem if you give? Perhaps something to think about with your new ministry.

MiniMe Mom said...

Fisherman's Wharf- San Fran.- we gave a bunch of money to a really good street performer and later ran into him buying $100 in lottery tickets.

We dealt with this all the time in CA. This sounds crazy, but I often carried Burger King Gift Certificates in my car. In my own mind, it solved the problem- although I am sure they would have been happier with the almighty dollar. :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember when I went to Toronto the summer after I was married as a high school mission trip leader. We went out ever night to hand out bagged lunches to the homeless. Toronto has one of the largest homeless populations in North Ammerica. We were told to always remember that these were real people with real needs and to always look them in the eye and respond. Even when we were out of food I would look, smile and say I'm sorry but I don't have any more food with me or money. It seemed that being acknowledged, for some, was enough.

Susan said...

Your heart is what counts in the matter. I have no doubt that you will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Stephanie said...

Greetings Wolmas! The Foleys came for a very short visit with us at our new home in Chicago last week, and Julie mentioned that you have a blog. It's such a treat to catch up on your adventures. You are in our prayers, and we look forward to hearing more about your time in NYC.

-The Nymans

Anonymous said...

For my freshman year in highschool, my family lived in Chicago, in the city. One evening we were going out to a fastfood place for dinner and there was a man begging outside. My parents invited him in to eat dinner with us - I sat horrified at another table with some of my other sibs. I'll never forget that night, though. My parents allowed this man to be a real person, not just a smelly, dirty beggar as I saw him and treated him with respect by having a meal and conversation with him. Maybe by providing him one meal, they didn't change his circumstances or life forever. But they changed mine. Thanks for helping me to remember these things so I can pass that same love of one another on to my kids.

xo Kristi Kubicki

Laurie said...

I've overheard people give to someone begging and say, "I hope you are using this money for food." (Implied meaning: don't spend this on booze.) Can this be considered giving from the heart? It seems judegmental and arrogant to me.

Tough stuff.

Triplet Mom said...

When I was visiting Chicago there was a woman outside the restaurant where we were eating breakfast. We were eating outside, and she was standing there asking us for money to buy breakfast there. It was horrible. She stared at us as we ate begging for food for her and her baby (supposedly she was pregnant). One couple gave her money. She tried to order food at the restaurant, but it wasn't enough. I suggested boxing up our leftovers and giving it to her. We barely got the food into boxes and she came over and asked for them. My first thought was 'Wow, the nerve! I was going to give it to you!' Then she ran away and ate as she ran. She didn't say thank you and it struck me. But, like Dana I have to remember it isn't about the thanks, but the giving. I knew she got a meal (not money for something else) and that should have been all I needed to be concerned about. We are so used to being praised for the good things we do, we now expect it. That isn't what Christian service is about. Good reminder Dana!

Lorraine said...

Tough stuff, indeed, because there is no way to determine whether the person in question is genuinely in need or if the need stems from substance abuse or if they are, as some of them are, professional beggars. (Seems an odd career choice but there you go). And even if a person took the posture that they didn't care and was going to give to everyone who asked, in a big city, that's just not practical. I try to see the homeless, try to look in their eyes, try to be polite in my refusal to give money. Which probably isn't enough either. And we do support works through our church that help the homeless and the mentally ill, because I do think that is ultimately the best use of our resources. And even with all that, sometimes I think Jesus looks at me looking at them and says, "You still don't get it, do you, sweetie?"

Dana said...

Good to hear from the Warner connection, Kristi and Steph!

All, thank you for sharing.