A Saturday experience is still bumping around in my head. Stuck in traffic in Columbia Heights, my husband and I met a woman begging along the line of cars—hardly an unusual experience for any of us. I was driving, and my window was down.
The elderly, toothless woman was dirty and seemed agitated. She stuck her hand, which contained a few quarters, through my window. “Hurry up,” she barked. I fumbled in my purse for coins because it seemed like that’s what she wanted. “Hurry!” she repeated angrily. “Hurry before the traffic moves!” I wasn’t finding coins, and my husband reached in front of me and put a $10 bill in her hand … and she was off.
I was quiet for a while before asking why he gave her a ten. His answer was that he felt he’d ignored the last few opportunities downtown.
I think of myself as a compassionate person who tries to live as Jesus modeled. I don’t often have cash, so there are many times I may not give to someone who asks me for money. In frequent encounters on the streets, however, I try to make eye contact and speak to him or her. But it wasn't the money exchange that upset me. I’ve really been struggling with my reaction to this particular woman and to Rich’s gift. I’m embarrassed by it. When I examine my feelings, pettiness, such as she didn’t say please or thank you, comes to mind. She was gruff, she didn’t seem like a nice person. Ten dollars seemed like too much.
I hate even seeing these words as I write them. Why couldn’t I imagine that her story might be unimaginably awful? Where is my understanding of mental illness? Is my response to the down-and-out contingent on good manners, nice teeth, and meeting some set of my expectations? This is a poor excuse for Christian living.
When I started to write this, I didn’t know how I might end it in my confusion, only that I feel strongly about sharing our faith struggles. But writing often brings new perspectives, and here’s what I’m thinking as I prepare to close this down and head for bed.
You and I are not complete. God doesn’t expect us to be because God made us fully and sometimes frustratingly human. God DOES expect us to ask for help.
In our Baptismal Covenant, we are asked: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to those questions is not “Yes, I’ve been doing all that with ease, thank you very much.”
It is, “I will, with God’s help.”
Loving God, patient parent and father of our Lord Jesus, help me to turn to you more, to ask and follow, to grow in grace, and to rest in the assurance that you are not done with me yet. AMEN