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On giving money to strangers: a confession

The other day we were in the parking lot at Lowe's. A young man met us and asked for money to buy gas "for me and my father." I refused him by saying he should ask inside the store. He walked away dejected, muttering, "But I've already tried that ..." And we drove off.

It felt so not-right.

But what to do? These days many ask for money for help, only to spend it on what they actually need help for: addiction to drugs and booze. But do I hide behind this excuse, and end up not offering help of any kind?

The incident stirred two other memories:

Years ago when we were young, Valerie and I were in Seattle for the first time. Outside our hotel a man asked for 20 dollars for an emergency, promising he'll repay it by leaving it at the front desk for us later in the day. I gave him the 20 dollars. (We were young). Of course nothing turned up at the front desk later on.

That incident had a formative influence on me with respect to strangers asking for money. The young man at the Lowe's was the unfortunate recipient of that influence.

Also some years ago we were touring in China; I forget which city we were in. But again it was in a parking lot: a small girl came up to me and begged for money.

I've never forgotten how dismissive I was in turning her down. I've prayed for forgiveness many times since then. Of course I would give her money now. And I would speak kind words to her.

But in this life you never step into the same river twice.

And apparently my regret wasn't enough for me to come up with a better way to treat that young man at the Lowe's.

Again I am sorry, and wanting to respond correctly (righteously) the next time something like this happens -- the instant it happens.

Not that I know what I would exactly do or say.

But I don't want to just ruminate about it afterwards on a blog.


Matthew 25.43-45 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'


Josh July 29, 2009 at 6:38 PM  

Its a difficult situation, especially when you can't quite tell if they do it for a living, or are in real need. The question I have to ask myself is, "Who's money is this?," and "Who gave it to me?" In the rare times that I can remember that nothing I have belongs to me, and that it was all given to me by my heavenly Father, I then have to ask the question of, "At what point does giving away what God has given me an unwise stewardship of money?" Most of the the time I don't get this far and try to put the person in some sort of blind spot, but other times I'm lead to give some, not out of guilt, but out of a heart that knows that God will provide me with what I need, and that God gives all of us gifts we certainly don't deserve.

How much value do earthly things have? 2Peter 3: 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies [2] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [3] 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Will God provide for me? - Mathew 6: 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Who gave it to us? - James 1: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. [4]

Anonymous July 31, 2009 at 6:16 AM  

Boy can I relate. You are not alone.

For me, and I don't mean to imply this is the same for you, I use to think I felt and acted like you describe because I just didn't want to be bothered, I mean it was just a little money. And this is a part of it. But I also have to admit money still has a grip on me. This is part of it for me. It is an unhealthy love. I do see that it is slowly turning into a strong like, and I pray someday soon it will only be a very weak likeness of money. Perhaps that is the best I can expect as a human in this world. Can't wait for the "new earth"!

It has been a long time since I have been in this very situation, probably not by accident, but I can easily imagine doing the same thing in that very moment without thinking.

Ecclesiastes 5 has been on my mind over the last few days. "Those who love money never have enough; those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income." For me this is what is at the heart of why I avoid the situation of being asked for money by strangers.

The more I live with an unhealthy love that is slowly changing into "a like", the more I realize that giving it away is the best way to accelerate this change. The grip is loosened.

For me at this point in my life I have more to lose by not giving it away in that moment. Even weighing the possibility that the money will just be wasted. The other possibility is God will use that very small amount of money to change that stranger's life in someway ... and I will never know it or need to know it. ...Now I just need to remember all this for that moment. :)

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