When Should We Help the Homeless? (A Slightly Sacrilegious Post)

 

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How is it that you can feel multiple feelings at the same time? Last night I felt the warmth, peace, and joy of the Spirit at the exact same time as I was feeling both scared and annoyed.

I was sitting alone in my car in a dark parking lot when a shady-looking young guy came up to me. He motioned to me and I looked at him like, “are you freaking kidding me right now?” I cracked the window like not even an inch. He called me out on it saying, “You cracked the window? You can trust me.” I just shook my head and said, “It’s ok, I don’t trust anybody.”

Now, for the record, I never ever give money to panhandlers. I mean, we give a good portion of our income to tithing and charity, I’ve bought people on the street some food a couple of times, and once I gave a five dollar bill to a one-armed man who started washing my windshield. But usually I feel too vulnerable to give out money. Which then makes me irritated about being put in a vulnerable situation. Recently I was so tired of the vulnerable/irritated feeling with it’s accompanying guilt, that I decided that the next time someone gave me a sob story asking for money I would turn around and give them a sob story about how I have five kids I’m trying to feed and then list all the things they’re going without because we can’t afford them.

But instead of a sob story, this guy just said, “I’m homeless and I already had dinner but I need some money for breakfast tomorrow so I don’t have to wake up early.” Without thinking I dug through my wallet while he said “I’ve noticed more people give you money when you’re panhandling if you’re honest with them instead of making up some story.” As I slid a dollar through the tiny crack I thought, He’s right. I found his honesty incredibly refreshing. And it worked.

He took the money, thanked me, said, “God bless,” and I was left alone in the dark parking lot feeling all those weird things. I think I felt scared because I’m usually pretty jumpy anyway, but I was also alone in a parking lot at night. I was probably annoyed because I hate feeling scared. And I think maybe I felt the Spirit about our interaction because I was feeling compassion for a fellow human. But even more than that, I think we both respected each other’s positions and that felt really good. And rare.

Later on in the evening he came up to me two more times, once back at my car almost immediately after he’d left, and another time as I was walking into a store. He asked me for money again and had no idea that I’d already given him some, even when I reminded him. I’m pretty sure he was at least a little bit high. But I was still glad I’d given him the dollar, even though it wasn’t much, and even though I usually wouldn’t have. Maybe it was just because it’s what God wanted me to do at the moment.

As a woman with children it’s wise to be careful about the people you interact with on the street. I’ve heard people debate until they’re blue in the face about whether or not you should give money to panhandlers, but the truth is, there is no right answer to it except to follow the Spirit.  Or your heart.  Or whatever force guides you to make empathetic yet wise decisions. Because it does take wisdom to discern the right course of action in any given situation. Yes, we need to love our fellow man, but that doesn’t mean we put ourselves in danger. Yes, they might just use the money to buy drugs, but honestly, is it our place to decide that? There’s a scripture in the Book of Mormon that is very clear, and very guilt-inducing about not judging beggars on the street. It’s in Mosiah 4: 17-19:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

That’s a *mic drop* scripture if I’ve ever heard one. I’m imagining God as a parent of bratty kids, saying to them, “Oh, you think he deserves to be begging on the street? I’m sorry, where did you get all that food and shelter from again?” But what I love about the Book of Mormon is the completeness of it. Because in verse 27, just in case he has some extra sensitive kids in addition to the bratty ones he says this:

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

I love that so much because He’s saying; on the one hand, don’t judge others because you’re just as dependent upon Me as they are; but on the other hand, when you are filled with compassion and love, don’t get carried away and think you have to throw twenties out to all the panhandlers on the side of the freeway. In other words, “Don’t get crazy.”

Ok so this time I’m imagining God as Anjelah Johnson when she’s Bon Qui Qui.  I hope I don’t get struck by lightning for that, but I don’t think I will because I’m pretty sure God has a sense of humor and probably thinks this clip is funny too:

Anyway.

My point is, you can have both compassion and wisdom at the same time. It’s hard, and can even lead to self-reflection in a dark parking lot and maybe even an early-morning blog post. But no one ever said life was going to be simple. Or that we’d ever get any sleep.

2 thoughts on “When Should We Help the Homeless? (A Slightly Sacrilegious Post)

  1. Hey, I followed you over here from your guest post at Meredith’s which I totally loved. This was a great take on it. I wrote a post on my own blog a few years back about what we decided to do, which is say “I’m sorry, I don’t give money to people I don’t know, but I like to help. What can I do for you?” Of course your safety is an issue, but I’ve gotten food for homeless people, bought bus tickets, and took a lady to McDonald’s once and bought her some food to eat inside because it was cold. Since we’ve started responding that way, though, I’ve become really cynical about how many people would keep changing their story, make up lies, and get annoyed that we actually wanted to help instead of give cash and go away.

    1. Aw, thank you! I know it is so hard to know when to do what. I’ve felt so good helping people who were in need and I’ve also had a lot of people reject the food I offered them (which is so funny to me because I would never turn down food!). I think there’s no good answer except to feel compassion towards all people.

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