I’ve made a decision today.
I don’t really do well with beggars and homeless people. You can’t give to all of them, so many people choose not to give to any. Plus, what are they really going to do with that money? Are they going to get food and support their family, or are they going to buy more alcohol.
On my way back from Spoleto today (yes, like the Spoleto Festival in Charleston – we have a sister city!), a greasy-haired gypsy woman came through the train with a picture of her (/a) family and was asking for change.
First time: I saw her out of the corner of my eye and did not turn my head, playing an extra intense game of candy crush. She stood there in a whiny complaining voice for an unnecessarily long amount of time.
Just go away! You are so annoyingly persistent. I don’t know if I should give you anything or not. You’re not supposed to even be on this train. Jesus says I should love you. What does that even mean? Am I rejecting Jesus right now?
She finally walked away. I’ve always told myself that I would give homeless people food if they needed it. Oh crap. I realized the lobbyist at Hotel Charleston I had dropped by to meet had given me an extra slice of pizza. I still had it. I had food I could’ve given that lady, and I was so uncomfortable with her hovering, unwanted presence that I didn’t even think about it. Lord, please bring her back by again.
Second time: Five minutes later, a simple prayer is answered. I gave her the pizza, she took it, and then proceeded to pester for money. I shook my head. She rambles about feeding her children. I point to the pizza and the girl in the photo. Another long, hovering presence. She finally leaves.
I still can’t get her out of my thoughts. Is it right not to give her any money? I don’t know. I felt an innate sense to say no. I realize I also happen to have a pack of crackers on me. I should give those, too.
Third time: She swoops in again. The woman has unashamed persistence, I give her that. I offer her my crackers. She shoos them away; she doesn’t want them, only money. That kind of ticked me off. The phrase “Beggars can’t be choosers” immediately came to mind. Sure, it is only a pack of crackers, but I’m trying to give them to you, and you won’t accept them. So how badly do you really need money after all?
The whole scenario reminded me so much of Peter.
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
Three times that happened. And later, Peter denies Christ three times also.
It was like God gave me three chances to love that woman. I denied her once, fed her and then was rejected. I’m not certain if my actions were just or if I should be more generous in general. But, like I said, I’ve come to a decision. Beggars are not going away. I’ll be living in D.C. next semester and I’ll face a lot more of them there. They are people, and I will not totally deny their dignity. I won’t give them money, but I will intentionally carry granola bars with me. I will put it in their hands. Accept or reject. I’ll let you be the chooser.