just this morning, i stumbled upon a website called moneyless.org. i found it because i was google searching “loving people without money,” not as in “how do I love people who do not have money?” but more as a question of, “how do I love people when I don’t have any money?”
it’s probably a terribly obvious question, really.
but i was faced with it when a fellow approached me on monday evening as i was walking around, telling me a story of how he and his family needed gas and if i had any money and could help out. i was hesitant to – because earlier in the day, my bank account was all but bled dry by an oil change, other car maintenance, insurance, and a water bill. i felt that if i ever had a good excuse not to give, that was the day. but i did (don’t applaud me.)
i’ve wrestled with the idea of giving money for such a long time – and so many times I’ve said no to so many people who asked for money. i don’t like giving money.
heck, i struggle with talking about generosity because it sounds so much like a horn-tooting thing to do, and i’m so insecure that any time i share an anecdote about someone who asked me for money or anything, people will perceive it as horn-tooting. i hate tooting my horn. really. promise.
anywho, so this guy asked for money on monday night. i obliged and i even prayed for him this time (something i’ve never had the boldness to do before.) then this morning, on my way to work, i got gas. a fellow outside the station asked me if i could give he and his fiancee a ride to the transit station, that she’d been in the hospital for six weeks and that they had to stay at the shelter last night. i suspected that giving them a ride to a place only a few blocks from where i was going was the least i could do, and i could afford that – i wasn’t able to oblige their need to get back to Prestonburg – but i could at least get them to the transit center. i wanted to offer something else – maybe a few bucks to cover gas or a bus for the way home, or a place to put their stuff, or a meal, etc…but i couldn’t quite reconcile the idea with my financial situation at present.
i think that the most difficult thing for me to reconcile is the idea that i have debt at present and my own financial state isn’t great. i’m developing a savings account for the first time in years, trying to make sure that when big bills roll around, i have cash on hand to take care of them, and to take steps towards financial freedom. then there’s the part where they asked if i could drive them to Prestonburg, and i knew i couldn’t because my car gets around town, but the second i get on the interstate, i risk a lot and i’m basically waiting for something to go wrong with my car.
(thanks for sticking with me this far, i’m thinking out loud this time, not really trying to make a point, at least not yet.)
what i’m about to say i don’t say to make myself feel better…in fact, in a lot of ways it may make me feel worse.
i think the bible models or lays out a way of helping people that isn’t contingent upon money, but upon genuine care and love.
Jesus sent His disciples out to preach and heal the sick and explicitly told them not to take money (see: Mark 6 and Luke 9.) in fact, He basically sent them out to be couchsurfers.
in Acts, the church lived in such a way where money and goods were shared and people weren’t ambitious to be rich – and those who did have ambition to be rich had it come back on them…hard. (see: Acts 5.)
in Acts, we have perhaps the only explicit instance of the disciples of Jesus bring asked for money, and they didn’t oblige the request for money, but they did pray, and met the beggar’s truest need – healing of his body and his soul. (see: Acts 3)
maybe the Bible has a view of the needs of people that is transcendent and much bigger than money. maybe it’s a sad truth that we use money to meet a lot of needs in our day and age. but maybe it’s true that just giving money to people is actually the cheapest form of love – it doesn’t require you exercising your faith to pray, it doesn’t require you changing your plans and giving someone a ride instead of just giving them money for gas or a taxi, or actually go to a restaurant and buy someone a meal (or giving them leftovers!)
the more i think about it, the more i think money is cheap. it’s a band-aid. it doesn’t really treat the problems people face. it can help in certain cases (medical bills, car repairs, food, etc) but as someone who’s given money to people before, I don’t really feel like I’ve helped much (and don’t get me wrong, I realize that you don’t do it so you can feel good about yourself – that’s not the point – but I feel that I’ve been genuinely ineffective.)
so where does that leave us, then?
my first thought is that maybe we should look to meet the need beneath the need. for example, maybe what people need more than a meal is to be welcomed at a table and to be talked to, interacted with, and heard. that costs a lot more than a few bucks – that costs a good few minutes, that costs putting your plans on hold for a little while while you talk to someone, get to know who they are, where they’re from, etc.
my second thought (and perhaps this is simply fundamentally incorrect) is that maybe we can’t meet every need. maybe you can’t give a ride to everyone who needs one or buy a meal for everyone who needs one or put gas in everyone’s car. perhaps the best thing we can hope for when we are approached with needs is discernment. because i’d hate to espouse such a cynical view that we never help anyone because we never trust anyone – imagine if Jesus had done that. but i (almost equally) hate the thought that we’d try to help everyone and meet every single need that we’re met with – that’s unrealistic, and it also creates a sense of guilt or sadness when we aren’t able to help.
my conclusion – to bring it back to the original question – is that i’d like to stop thinking of money as the only way of loving people. we love people with our time, with our service, with our intentionality. loving people is a long game sometimes. sometimes the best thing to do for people is to bring them into a group, to make them feel welcome, to not walk on the other side of the street when you see them coming your way.
i don’t know, though – i don’t have a conclusion here. if you’re reading this and you have thoughts on what to do when strangers ask for help – please share. it’s not the most straightforward of issues.