- Religion and Philosophy
How to respond to the needy without remorse or guilt
Are there right and wrong approaches?
In a recent group meeting, one of the participants recounted his experience with a beggar when he was on a trip to Washington D.C. He was struggling with mixed emotions as he tried to figure out what would have been a proper course of action.
While walking with a local friend, a woman asked for some "change" and he gave her a couple of dollars. His friend remarked that by giving her the money, he had simply enabled her in her addiction (Apparently, he knew that she was an addict). That revelation made our friend remorseful. He felt guilty, knowing that he indeed contributed to the woman's ongoing addiction.
Undoubtedly, this is a familiar experience with many people. There are panhandlers in every town, big and small. Many of you have been asked for "a dollar" or "change". May be you have responded with generosity, or declined. And may be, afterwards, you have nagging questions haunting you.
Panhandlers ask for "a dollar" or "change", in their words, to get something to eat, or for bus fare. Occasionally, someone brave or bold and honest will carry a sign saying he just wants to get a "beer" and he is being honest about it! The response to such request is usually easy, but what is the right action when asked for change or a dollar "for bus fare" or for "something to eat?"
"Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me" (Matthew 25:45, NRSV).
It is this saying of Jesus that makes many guilty when they do not respond to a panhandler's request. Christians firmly believe that the bible requires them to be compassionate to the needy and to act to alleviate their suffering. They also take Jesus' words seriously, that on the day of judgment they will give an account of how they treated those in need. Similarly, every spiritual person knows that empathy towards those in need is essentially compatible with the human spirit.
What about the addict and the alcoholic? Are they included in the "least of these"?.What about judging? In other words, can we judge them because of their addiction? After all, isn't addiction the very reason they are "the least of these"?
"I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you..." (Acts 3:6, NRSV).
Let us agree that it is not possible to satisfy the needs of all the needy one will encounter on any given day. And may be there are those times when your heart tells you to give something to that woman who asks you for a dollar. You give her three, or four, or five dollars because that is all you have. Then you find out that she is an addict, or your brain brings up that possibility.
Should you, like our friend, feel guilty, or how should you respond to the satisfaction of both your heart and your brain?
In Acts 3, a beggar asked Peter and John for "change" as they were going to the temple for prayer. They did not have any money to give him, but they also helped him beyond what money would have done.
If a person is hungry, what he or she needs is food, not money. Buying them food, instead of giving them money, would be more helpful, and you won't have guilty feelings. It would be even more helpful if you can help them locate places where meals are served. (Chances are, though, that the panhandlers already know those places).
On the other hand, if you are new in an area – like our friend in Washington, D.C – you may not know where meals are served. It is alright to follow your heart. After all, what matters is your motive. If you help someone because it makes you feel good, that motive is questionable. Your motive is questionable if you expect favor from God or recognition.
Furthermore, the person may, indeed be in need of bus fare. If your heart is telling you to help, it is better to help and be wrong about your belief than not to help at all because you were judgmental.
Suggest solutions without judging or preaching:
The best course of action is to be relational. Try to know the person's situation without cross examination or investigation. There are many people who have gone into rehab because someone from whom they tried to get some money helped them see what they really needed.
Deep inside every human heart is the desire for an ear and for a relationship. If you can find a way to gain the person's trust, you will learn what the real need is, then you can, together, try to find a solution. This takes time and patience. It is an investment into another person's life.
1.Examine your motives.
2.Follow your heart.
3. Be relational.