Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.
I constantly struggle with trying to be the woman God calls me to be. Living in a big city, surrounded by so many people in need, makes that struggle even harder sometimes. I want to help them all, but really struggle with the “how.” Today was one of those days.
I was sitting outside at Panera in Atlanta after work today, and some guy came up to the railing and mumbled some words that I couldn’t quite make out. Eventually I figured it out. He was hungry and needed food. A hamburger is only $1.07 at McDonald’s, he said. I turned him away but felt bad as I looked back at the table with my half eaten salad (which I remember being SO hungry for as I got off work). I watched as he literally limped away, and as he did, I noticed his torn white shirt and ragged blue jeans.
I started beating myself up. The thought “You don’t know hunger – that guy knows hunger” played over and over in my head. Then, I looked at my MacBook sitting next to my half-eaten salad and then saw my Coach tote bag sitting in the chair next to me (which contained, among other things, my iPad and noise-reducing headphones).
I asked myself what kind of Christian I am if I don’t take care of the poor – especially since I have been blessed with more than I could ever truly need. I know that my money would get put to better use by giving to a non profit or shelter, but Jesus didn’t say “give to a shelter.” He said “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
I hastily pulled a $5 bill from my wallet and shoved it in my pocket, cleaned up my table, packed my bag and set out to see if he was still on his way to McDonald’s. As I drove through the shopping center parking lot, I didn’t see him, so I continued on the way to the McDonald’s, which was a little ways up the road. On the way, I saw him limping along the sidewalk of a busy street. I pulled over and rolled down my passenger window, yelled “Sir!” and reached out with the $5 bill. As he reached for it, he nearly fell into my car. His hand touched mine, and he said “thank you” and “God bless you.” For some reason, I felt uneasy.
My plan for the night had been to stay at Panera and work on my Italian. But I had already packed up camp, so I continued on to the Walmart shopping center (where the McDonald’s is). I thought that I would just study Italian there, but instead, something kept me sitting in my car. As I saw him crest the hill in the parking lot, I felt relief…until he walked straight past the McDonald’s.
I looked around to see what other food place he might be going to – there was a rotissiere place nearby. Had he gotten enough money to get a better meal? I thought about his clothes and pondered whether I could offer to give him more – perhaps buy him a new pair of jeans at Walmart. But as I scanned the parking lot, my eyes froze as they set upon the liquor store, straight ahead in his path. I watched as he walked in. My heart sank.
A few minutes after he entered the store, he walked back outside and grabbed a lottery card from the stand outside. He walked back in the liquor store and then back out a few minutes later. Then, another man arrived, who appeared to be the guy’s friend. The hungry man put his arm around the other guy and laughed for a while. I couldn’t move. I just sat in my car in disbelief as they went back into the liquor store together, walking out with a large brown paper bag shortly afterwards.
The man never went to McDonalds. I know because I stayed there, frozen in still disbelief as he and his friend walked off into the sunset (literally). I kept watch until they disappeared over the hill.
I do not doubt that he needed money; at least, he needed it more than I did. It was a leap of faith to give it to him. But I know that this experience will stay with me. How do I mitigate the suspicion the next time? In some ways I feel that even if someone uses money you freely give to buy alcohol, what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a little novacaine to get through the night?
But still, I thought he was hungry, and I wanted to give him food…