A Message from Ellen 3-28-18
March 28, 2018
Last Sunday, after worship, many of us were greeted with a couple standing by Rockbridge Road with a baby in a stroller begging for help. Someone told me that they wondered if it was a set up. No. At least not a set up by me.
It is very uncomfortable to be faced with someone begging for money, food, etc. And I am not comfortable with what this couple was doing. I have from time to time given money to people who ask me when I am out and about in my “civilian” duties. But often when I give money to those who beg or badger me (as seemed to be the case on Sunday), I give but it is not from the motive of compassion. I have given money out of fear, to get someone away from me that I thought was a threat. That is not compassion. I have given money out of guilt, because they badgered or shamed me in some way. That is not compassion either. When I give out of fear or guilt, it does not strengthen my capacity for compassion. I mostly end up feeling resentful.
Compassion is an internal spiritual discipline that builds the capacity to see another person as God sees them and to love them – whether we do what they want or not – and to attempt to alleviate their suffering. Giving money to someone who begs may or may not be an expression of compassion. Only the person giving the money knows the motivation. But, I want to set you free both to give money IF you are motivated by compassion, and NOT to give money if you feel shamed, badgered or fearful.
My experience teaches me that anyone who shows up as a congregation is letting out of worship has figured out that shame and guilt work on people coming out of church and results in money. It is a manipulative tactic, and my personal inclination is to not offer beyond the basic help for someone who comes at me in this way. Whether you do or do not respond to this tactic is purely a personal choice. But I don’t believe that to simply say “no” is unchristian. In this case, I did offer some help. Because it was not what they asked for they did not want what I offered and instead gave me a scalding about not being Christian. My goal (every time this happens) is to continue to pray that I will speak, act and see them in love, and not to respond to their anger.
I do believe that it is my Christian duty is to ensure that the organizations that can offer help have what they need. If you were uncomfortable being asked for money, then let that be a motivator to send money to Transitions or the Family Shelter or Family Promise. In that way, we can ensure that the organizations who can truly offer helpful and compassionate care (without being taken advantage of) are supplied to do what we cannot. Through Forest Lake, we often give bus tickets, gas or grocery gift cards (in no more than $40 increments). Then, we work with organizations who can do the homework and verify the facts so that the money we give will be most influential for those in need.
Compassion. It is a difficult thing. Pay attention to your heart. It really is about love and our capacity to love as God loves. Speaking of which . . . . . . See you on Easter morning.
Bring a friend with you!
Ellen Fowler Skidmore