May 30, 2006

I Have Praying to Do

08:48 PM

This afternoon, I met a friend for coffee. As I hauled my laptop case out of my car and shut the door, a lady caught my eye. She looked sweaty and frustrated and told me she'd just lost her job and could I help her and her six kids? I knew I only had a couple dollars on me and that if I gave her my money, I wasn't sure how I'd buy my drink once I got inside, but I did it anyway.

When I handed her the two folded bills, what I read in her response wasn't really gratitude. Turns out I had another dollar in my wallet that I hadn't seen---had she? Did she think I was holding out on her even while I said, "That's all I have"?

In any case, I just feel like the interaction wasn't really grace, like I should have done something differently.

I felt the conversation weighing heavy on my skin as I walked inside the coffeehouse. I've always heard that you shouldn't give money to people who ask for it---"They'll just spend it on drugs" is usually the argument, usually delivered with scorn and the opposite of compassion. I've never been sure just what to think, and so I've always avoided thinking about it. I just give money when I can or say, "Sorry" when I can't.

But I've decided I need to think about it. I need to form an opinion about how to help people who ask me for help. What will truly help them?

I guess one option is to carry a package of crackers around with me, ready to hand it to panhandlers at a moment's notice. Maybe nuts would be better---a little protein. It seems like as good an idea as any.

But if I plug that idea into the formula of this afternoon's encounter, it doesn't really work. She didn't ask me for anything in particular, and if I'd tossed a package of crackers her way---in all likelihood somewhat battered from riding around in my purse---it wouldn't have meant anything to her. She wasn't hungry, she was looking for help for her kids.

Obviously, there just isn't an easy, fix-all solution. I'm not sure what to do, but I really want to pray and think and ask and figure out how to respond in these situations. Because I can't have another non-conversation. I can't stand avoiding eye contact. I'm not going to continue to brush these people off like they're not really human.

I have some praying to do.