An Unplanned Lesson in Giving
An unplanned lesson in giving to a homeless man unfolded before my son and I one Sunday this holiday season. As we drove out of a parking lot we approached an old man standing on the mini sidewalk island between the in and the out of the parking lot. We had just bought a present for my son’s friend and next we were heading to the birthday party.
There stood a man. He stood in a spot I hadn’t seen someone stand before even though I’d been to this store many times. It was cold out. The kind of cold that hurts the skin when walking outside. The kind of cold that made my son and I run out of the store to the shelter of the van rather than walk. We had to rush, it hurt too much to linger in the cold.
But the man simply stood in that harsh cold. He didn’t have a car to run to. He didn’t run out of the biting cold, he stood. He was calm and still. He didn’t even appear to shiver. The man wore a rough mustard colored canvas jacket, like the kind construction workers wear. He wore a hooded sweatshirt pulled up over his head under the canvas coat hood and a gray beanie winter hat under both hoods. He was unshaven with a rough beard. His skin looked thick and weathered probably from spending so much time outside. Perhaps he spent so much time outside he didn’t shiver anymore. His boots were worn as were his canvas pants. He had a small bag at his feet not much bigger than my purse. He had the usual sign the homeless beggars hold that simply said “homeless”.
I usually steer away from these guys and prefer to give money through channels like church or other established charities. At least I believe the donated money will more likely be used for life necessities like food or clothing or water. But something in me stirred when I saw him. I am usually fearful of coming close to someone standing like this as I fear for the safety of my children in the car, in case the person is hostile. I don’t want to put my children in any type of risk. That fear urges me to keep driving past homeless beggars. However, this time my fear was dim. I stopped the van, reached into my wallet and handed him some cash. This is something I’ve never done before because my fear was too great.
“Thank you. Merry Christmas.”
My son watched me do this as the man simply said, “Thank you. Merry Christmas.” The man’s facial features didn’t change as he said it, but his eyes softened.
I told him Merry Christmas back and rolled up my window. It felt wonderful to give him that money. My handing him cash brought on a conversation with my son as we drove about homeless people and giving. He instantly wondered where the man would go when he was cold and where he could sleep. I explained to him about homeless shelters. I told him if they didn’t exist people would die in the cold in our winter climate. He shook his head; he understood that.
It was a good lesson for him to see when he constantly wants to do fun things and buy more things. The truth is our family is very blessed. We have a nice home with many wonderful amenities. Our family goes on vacations and we do fun things. We have plenty of food, and good food often. The kids do sports activities and have nice clothes. We can afford pets and extras like skis and a trampoline. But so many people cannot afford this and I try to drill that into my kids. I talk about it a lot. My husband and I donate to several charities and we make it known to our kids. I talk about how much things cost so our kids are aware of how much it costs to go to a movie or go bowling. They need to know that what we are doing costs money, and we are lucky to be able to do it.
I wonder what made my fear of that man abate when normally that fear is always present in me. Perhaps God eased my fear enough in that moment to roll down my window for this man. Maybe he was truly in need and it was God’s way of helping him through me. I love that possibility that I could help someone because of a silent urge instilled by God. Or perhaps God wanted to teach my son about giving. Maybe God wanted to teach me about giving without fear. Most likely all the above reasons are true. Regardless, it felt good to give him the money.
That act was a blessing, it cast a clear shiny glow about the rest of my day. My smile purer, my Christmas joy stronger. It created a great conversation starter for my son and I to talk about giving to the less fortunate and to help him realize how much we truly have as a family.
I am so glad I stopped this time. It was the right and clear action. I wonder about that man’s story and how he ended up homeless. Was it his fault or was it an unforeseen circumstance that lead to his homelessness? Was he lazy? Was he even trying to better his life? Was he a drunk? Was he going to just go buy alcohol or drugs with that money I just gave him?
I guess it really doesn’t matter because I helped him whether that help will ease his pain or his hunger or his thirst, I won’t be the judge of how he uses the money and is it a good enough reason. It just felt good to help. Having my son witness it felt good. Giving without knowing the end result felt good. I don’t really know for sure if the other money donated to established charities is really used efficiently and for only necessary things. That’s an illusion. I will never really know. Perhaps in the end, giving to a sole man out on his own is the same as giving to charities as I have no control over how the money is spent in either case. To give, that is what is important. To give as much as we can as often as we can. That is what matters.
It felt genuine to just give directly to a person in need. Something I need to do more of if I can get past my fear of safety. That is something I can strive for with God’s help.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16 ESV