Friday, December 12, 2008

Strollers And Selective Charity

Yesterday David had the following conversation with an acquaintance:

Acquaintance: You're not one of those annoying people who takes their stroller on the subway, are you?

David: (Proudly) Yeah I am! All the time! What's the problem with that?

A: (Disgusted noise) They just take up so much space!

D: What do you expect me to do?

A: Can't you just fold it up?

D: I need to keep my son contained so he won't take a flying leap onto the tracks or jump in front of a train. And he is really hard to hold onto once he is on the train, especially if you are trying to hold onto something else, like his stroller.

A: Oh, I guess I never thought of it that way.

This exchange is a perfect example of personal experiences preventing someone from having understanding toward other people. As this person does not have any kids, she could not see any need for children to remain in their strollers on the subway. Who knows how many years she has been looking down her nose at harried parents as they push their wiggly children onto the train? At least now she might have a bit of understanding and sympathy when she sees a child taking a ride in his stroller.

I've been thinking about this understanding and sympathy a lot lately as I've walked around the city ignoring the panhandlers who would be happy with a simple dime in their cup. Every time I pass one by I know I should be doing something to help these people. But I let my personal hang-ups prevent me from reaching out a charitable hand. (After all, they might be using it to buy alcohol or drugs!)

David and I have discussed how we can best help the homeless of our city, and have decided to donate to a local shelter each month. The problem with donating to a shelter is that many of the people who spend their time begging for money are not frequenters of the homeless shelters and so wouldn't be helped by that donation. And I'm still not sure that is the full solution to the pangs of guilt I feel as I walk by a decrepit old man holding out his styrofoam cup for my help. I've thought about withdrawing a set amount of money each month in dollar bills and passing them out as I venture around the city, until I run out. I still don't know what the perfect solution is.

Sometimes our charity is so selective. We dole it out after a lengthy interview process to determine if a person or cause is worthy. We seem to have no problems looking at someone and saying, "he isn't worthy of my charity because of A and B" and then patting ourselves on the back for our own wonderfulness in dealing with our personal trials.

The experiences we have so color our perception of the world that sometimes we are rendered truly incapable of having charity towards others. I think this is when the scriptural definition of charity - the pure love of Christ - comes into play. True charity is when we reach past our own human inability to show sympathy, kindness and a little understanding to another person, and find some way to relate to them and love them. With the help of the Lord, we reach past our incapacity to love and care about someone and can often find we have no trouble putting our arms around them and saying things we didn't know we were capable of saying, let alone actually feeling.

The Lord seems to be trying really hard to cement this concept in my brain. As I have struggled and fought through unsuccessful fertility treatments and miscarriage to have the children I always hoped for, I often find it difficult to be around pregnant women, especially when they are doing what many pregnant women seem to do best - complaining. Because I would give anything to trade places with these women, I often cannot see past my own hurt to show them a little sympathy. To reach down past the depths of my broken heart and pull out an understanding comment for a discouraged pregnant woman is often more than I am humanly capable of doing.

But I know the Lord is capable, and can help me find some understanding words, even when I can't come up with them myself. Of course this doesn't stop it from being a daily battle, but it is a lesson to me on what true charity is, and that we cannot expect to have our hearts filled with charity simply from our own efforts or on our own merit. We have to reach past ourselves and allow the Lord to help us.

He's always willing.


Anonymous said...

Very true, Bonnie. It is so easy to see our own problems while glossing over the problems of others. I think that is one of the great gifts of families, is that they force you to look outside yourself to focus on someone else's needs, ie spouse/child/sibling/parent. Anyway, back to work.


MyDonkey Five said...

I agree wtih Marshall and am very glad we can turn to the Lord to help us be better and gain mercy for those we have a hard time showing it to.

And as for giving to charity, I once had a philosophy class at Temple where we discussed the issue of giving money to the poor and wondering if they would use it for good or bad things. The consensus was that the money giver shouldn't judge and just give, regardless of what the person may do with the money. The giver benefits for what he does, which is in his control, and cannot be held accountable for things outside of his control, what they person does with the money. Make sense? I agree that it's the act that counts. Good luck with findng a suitable way to "give back"!

MyDonkey Five said...

And when I complain about being at the end of pregnancy and being so uncomfortable, I never mean it as an offense towards you. I am very grateful for the life I am carrying. More than anything it's nice to hear from people that you can make it and it will be okay, even when it seems unbearable.

overlyactive said...

It is interesting that you wrote about this because I was thinking about this as well. It is so hard to know who to help out financial. There is always people calling for your help with this organization or we get a dozen mailings with different very worthy causes to donate to. We can't help them all so who needs it the most? I believe your right in your statement that true charity is our ability to show other people sympathy. That can be the hardest. Thanks for your your thoughts, I have been enjoying your blog, I feel like I know you so much better. You have many followers because you write so well. Thanks for sharing!

Sarah said...

Edinburgh is a city quite notorious for it's begging hustlers. When one offers money to those on the street there, it's almost certainly going to a larger cause. This in turn hardens one's heart and provides many excuses to not give. I have found myself very reluctant to give money, but there is always the option of handing out food that you buy for them, then I find my excuses dwindling. I know I couldn't afford to feed everyone from one end of Princes Street to the other, yet, I can do something and not worry where my contribution is going. Perhpas, instead of your dollar bills you could have a bag of fruit and give that out until it runs out?

Have you ever pondered the following, and I mention it in relation to the pregnant women who moan... could charity sometimes be to share your feelings (kindly) so as to enable others to experience life differently? The Lord will often work that way with us. Perhaps such insensitive women need a loving word about the blessing they has fallen upon so easily and that there are many others who morn because of it's absence. Can not we say that charity could be to provide perspective? After all, if we are to bring the Lord our weakness, and his grace is to be sufficient for us, and said weakness is to be made strong, how can he do this without perspective?
The key is to do it with love; love for the individual, love for the Lord and love for oneself.
I have yet to perfect in action such thoughts, but I thought I would share...

overlyactive said...

My first exposure to this (people asking for handouts) was on my mission in Portugal. After discussing it with my companions we concluded that Christ's counsel is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc. Thereupon we strove to always have some kind of food with us to give to those asking for money. If caught w/o food we would offer to take them to a cafe and buy them a meal. Rarely did they take us up on the offer but a couple of times they did. -Devin