Every so often I’ll be out and about and someone will approach me asking if I have any money to help them get some food. Or I’ll see them panhandling at the traffic light with a little cardboard sign that says a variation of “Homeless, please help, God bless.” When this happens, 99% of the time my answer is the same, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” Which is true; I’m very much a debit card kinda guy, and rarely ever carry any cash. I may have a few coins in the car, but that’s generally it. I end up telling myself that there’s nothing I could’ve done, and if I had had some cash I would’ve surely given them something. It’s a justification, nothing more, and I go on with my life.
It’s a cop-out, really, and it’s not good enough. Cash or no cash, there are things I could do to help, I just choose not to, and it’s time I am brutally honest with myself.
Recently this happened while I was leaving Home Depot, a man who said he was homeless asked if I could help him with something so he could eat. The answer came out even before he was done talking, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” I didn’t even look him in the eye for more than a second as I walked away to my car. The moment I sat in my seat I felt like a jackass. While it was true I had no cash, I had a card on me that I had just used to buy things that I needed for the house but which aren’t essential to life like food is. And while my bank account was certainly low after paying all my bills, I had to admit that I wasn’t gonna be any richer or poorer for helping this guy out. Invariably a voice inside me argued that maybe he wasn’t homeless at all, how could I tell anyway? I know this voice as the evil inclination, the yetzer hara in Hebrew, and all it does is justify any instance when I don’t do the will of God. Like I had done at that moment.
I said a short prayer: “God, let me find this man, and make it right.” I looked around but couldn’t see him, but when I drove around the parking lot, I spotted him in front of another store. “Hey, I don’t have any cash, but can I buy you something to eat at the sandwich shop there?” He instead asked for a gift card, so he could get something to take later before going to the shelter, so I got him a gift card with enough money for a sandwich meal, gave it to him, and went on my way.
Helping people, giving charity, giving of myself, these are opportunities God gives for my benefit, for me to act in a Godly way. God will provide for the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the needy, but by having me cross their path, God is giving me an opportunity to be His partner in delivering justice and sustenance. And in response to my evil inclination, it makes no difference if they aren’t homeless, or poor, or needy, let God take care of that. I cannot judge a person just from looking at them, and while I am asked to be a good steward of the resources God has given me, let that not be an excuse to not help those who need it, to not take the opportunities God puts in my way.
I’m very private in my giving. I give charity from every paycheck I get but don’t feel the need to make it known. I do it because it’s what God wants of me, because He gives me my sustenance and in turn asks that I use part of it to help those in need. I am uncomfortable sharing this story, but I’m doing it because I need to hold myself accountable. If it also helps someone out there, even better.
So this is my promise to myself, to my God, to pay attention to those opportunities He puts in my way, and to take them as much as I can, to actively be His partner as much as possible, to give what I can give the way that He has given to me and mine.