The Art of Giving
The following is a sample chapter from a devotional I’m writing. I chose to share this particular devotion because it speaks to the heart of a question I’m often asked: When do I give money to someone begging for it? The next time a stranger asks for some help, I hope you keep this lesson in mind. As entrepreneurs and professionals we are called to give and this is one lesson that will help us do a much better job of responsibly sharing our successes with others.
Underground it was damp and there was a stale wind blowing by from passing trains. Holding aluminum bats and the type of oversized softballs you can only find in Chicago, I stood with five of my friends waiting for our train to arrive in the Chicago subway. It had been a long day, and I was thinking only about getting home and passing out on the couch with a Gatorade by my side. My walls were down and I was vulnerable.
We stepped on to the train and sat together silently. We had just spent nearly a full summer’s day in the sun and dirt, launching 16-inch softballs all over the field and making friends with every passerby looking for a way to enjoy the afternoon. It was a wonderful day in the park, but now fatigue and sunburn were taking over.
The heat that day had been blistering, and we were all covered in sweat and dirt, which would probably explain why we had the train to ourselves. The sound of the El passing through narrow tunnels coupled with metal wheels on a metal track was enough to drown out any conversation, but we were all too tired to talk anyway. So we sat comfortably in silence, hoping to make it home uninterrupted.
But with just one stop to go, that peaceful and weary ride home was interrupted. A man in his forties entered our car through an emergency door that sits in between the cars and announced his presence. However, no announcement was really needed. This one man smelled worse than the five of us combined.
“Excuse me, may I please have your attention for just one minute,” he began to say.
His introduction was one I heard almost on a daily basis. I knew he was going to explain how he had recently lost his job, was looking to get back on his feet, and needed a little money. Then he would proceed to say, “God bless you” until you either gave him money to leave you alone or so rudely ignored him that you’d feel bad about it for the rest of the day.
I just looked away and returned to staring into the dark universe that is the Chicago subway. Most of my friends did the same, all but one. My friend Matt decided to stick around for a little conversation. And so I watched.
The stranger was a large man; unshaven and so covered in dirt I could hardly see his face. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt that was too big even for his frame. It was ripped on one sleeve, and black with dirt all down the front. His pants were also far too big, and they bunched up against a worn pair of boots at his ankles. When I imagine a burly man stepping out of a coalmine, this is what I always pictured.
Between his burly appearance and foul odor, I couldn’t help but feel intimidated. For the moment, I was feeling very pleased with my decision to ignore the situation. But then I began to listen to him talk. Matt was already listening intently, and the rest of my friends were starting to take interest as well. In a raspy voice that was hard to understand, the man spoke very intelligently and explained how he was a manager at a factory, had lost his job, and therefore his home and family. He was new to homelessness (only a few months on the street), and was in desperate need of a shower. That is all he wanted.
Before long, our train stop had arrived. We all got up and stepped onto the platform. That is, all but one of us. Matt was digging through his wallet, clearly intent on giving the man some money. We all turned and waited, suspiciously watching to make sure it was a safe transaction. You just never know with a stranger, especially one as intimidating as this guy.
Then it happened. Matt pulls out a $20 bill and hands it to the man in a hurry. The guy says thank you, and disappears with the passing train.
After Matt squeezed through the closing doors, I asked, “Dude, you know you gave him a $20 right?” His answer changed my life forever.
None of us could believe it. You just don’t give that much money to a stranger. Matt was blasted with doubts about his charity and was even accused of being irresponsible.
“How do you know he isn’t going to use that money on drugs or alcohol?” someone asked.
The question was well intended, but Matt was not pleased. It sparked a debate, one that people all over the world face on a daily basis. Why should you give money to a stranger who you think will probably just use it on vices that perpetuate their bad situation? Surely that man was going to take the cash and trade it in for some cigarettes and liquor at the nearest 7-11, right?
“I don’t know what he is going to do with the money,” Matt answered. “But he needed some, and that is all that matters. It isn’t up to me to judge what he does with it.”
His answer pierced my soul. There I was, doubting his judgment by giving a stranger so much money. I was debating in my own heart what the right thing to do was. I had heard the same debate in church for years, and no one had ever given me a clear answer.
On that warm summer afternoon, when I was so exhausted and selfish, God used Matt to teach me a lesson that has changed my entire outlook on charity. This one friend, who was an outspoken atheist, had just done a better job of caring for the poor on one train ride than I had ever done in my entire life.
What I learned from Matt’s extraordinarily ordinary action was that it is not our place to judge what other people do with what we give them. When you offer someone in need assistance, it is not your place to ask why he or she needs it or pass judgment about what they will do with it. Once you have passed your blessing, your job is done. God has only called you to give, not give and judge. Let God alone be the judge of how that blessing is used.
What if every time we asked God for a blessing, He responded by questioning why and what we are going to do with it? What if every time we asked for something in prayer, God said “no” because he was afraid we would misuse it? God sent his son to die for all mankind, knowing that we would still abuse it and continue to sin. God has given us so many blessings, talents, and gifts, yet each day we use them for our own pleasure. So who are we to judge if strangers are going to use our spare change for their own vices?
Even if that man on the train did use the $20 for drugs or alcohol (which I doubt), Matt knew that it didn’t matter. He knew that what mattered was that he shared what he had with a person in need. This, my friends, is the definition of the love of God.
Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos (via Flickr)