Needy People (1)
We went to the store in Saint Marc the other day, and while we were there, word went around that a vehicle with white people had just come up to the store. When we came out with our purchases, there were a ton of women with babies, all with their hands out, all demanding that we give them something.
It felt horrible to be so accosted, just because we were white and just because we were coming out of "the store." How could they understand how delicate our own financial situation was, how carefully we had to manage our own resources, and how fully each of us had to trust God for the food that we ate? To them we just looked like rich people, because we were driving a car and buying things with debit cards.
It also felt horrible to not give them anything when we knew they truly were hungry. If we had started giving anything out, we would have been mobbed, and our car would have been marked for next time as a car that gives things away, and so next time we would have been mobbed as soon as we drove up.
We drove away, and for the next few days, I was filled with a sense of the unpleasantness of it all. One side of me was preparing retorts that I wished I had had the presence of mind to say at the time, like, "Yeah, you have one baby to feed. Try providing for 180," or "Do you have any idea how many days in a row I have had to eat peanut butter and jelly?" The other side of me was grieved at the condition of the people, and I was frustrated by the knowledge that I really did not know how to deal with it in my own soul.
Overarching it all, though, was an annoyance that I had to deal with it at all. "Why can't they just go away and leave us alone?" I wondered. "Why do they have to come up and bother us?"
Needy People (2)
The kids have picked our front porch as their favorite place to play. They play there until it is time to go to bed, and the air is filled with shouts and laughter and the normal sounds of play. Balls and toy cars roll back and forth, and games of tag produce shrieks of excitement. Most of all, though, the kids just want to be near us. They want to be noticed. "Look! Look!" "Do you see?" "Watch this!" They crave attention. They want love. They want us.
Usually I am right in the thick of everything, with a crowd of kids around me, but one night, at the end of a particularly intense day, I just wanted to go away and be by myself. I hid in the house. Still, the noisy chatter echoing just through the doorway started to grate on my senses. I didn't really know what I wanted, but part of me seemed to be yearning and longing for something, and part of me wanted to cry, and part of me was restless and unable to enjoy reading or any other activity I could think of. I was accosted by thoughts like, "I never want to have children as long as I live," and "I can't wait to go home." Again, that annoyance came back to me. "Why can't they just go away and leave us alone?" I thought. "Can't they pick a different place to play?"
(I hate to admit to the world that I have experienced these awful thoughts, but there they are, in all their ugliness.)
You're Not Allowed to Be Needy!
I think the puzzling aspect in common between these two stories is that (1) I am usually abundantly generous and (2) I usually love children. Yet in these two cases, I experienced great annoyance that someone would presume on my generosity or my love of children and expect me to give it.
Is it human nature, or is it just me?--to discover that I am happy to give (of myself or my money), but only as long as you don't come across as too needy or too demanding.
"I'll give to you," I seem to say, "but only if you're not needy. You're not allowed to be needy. Once you start to be needy, I will begin to withdraw from you."
I will buy you lunch if you're my friend, and I won't even expect you to buy me lunch in return, but if there's any hint that you are going to sap my resources and suck me dry, I probably won't buy you lunch even once.
I will play with children and be a "big sister" with all my heart, but when I'm expected to be mom, um, that's an investment of time and energy that I shrink away from.
I will give you attention and show you love, but when you start to act like your world revolves around me, that's not okay, and I will run the other direction.
But God doesn't say to be a cheerful giver only to the ones who are "not needy."
In fact, he cautions against giving to the rich. He specially highlights the widow and orphan (society's neediest) for our attention. He doesn't offer caveats like "minister only to the deserving poor" or "love the ones who don't have Reactive Attachment Disorder."
So What Am I Supposed to Do?
Good question. I'm still asking Him for wisdom on that one.
But some answers have come.
Timothy Keller, in his book, Ministries of Mercy, traces the source and origin of poverty to the fall, and highlights the fact that all of us are needy. We ourselves are recipients of mercy. His insights into what the Bible says about the poor smote me to the heart and caused me to repent of my supercilious attitude towards the women in outside the store in Saint Marc. No more did I wish to have a ready retort for them. How can I show them mercy instead? If I have nothing to give, I can at least mirror Peter and John's approach ("Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee...") How can I impart the love of Jesus, even in this kind of encounter? (And how do I avoid the equally egregious pitfall of saying, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," without giving them what is needful for the body?)
In withdrawing from those who are needy, I tend to excuse it as a survival mechanism or a self-defense technique, using language to myself like "parasite" or "sapped" or "burned out." I tell myself I "need space," I look at the benefits of "recharging," and I consider it isn't wrong to leave a person to God and not always consider myself God's answer to that person's need.
But this kind of thinking reveals a perspective of limited resources. I only have so much money, time, energy, and reserve before I need to replenish.
What if I looked at everything from the perspective of unlimited resources?
God has unlimited resources. All of us are needy before Him. We are always crying, coming to Him, needing His aid. He never turns us away with an annoyed look and says, "No, you're too needy right now. You're not allowed to be needy." He has merciful, bountiful care for all of the needy people in the world at the same time. He never runs out of love, patience, attention, or wisdom to attend to our needs. He always has enough resources to provide the supplies we need, even when we are like little leeches on Him, sucking, sucking, sucking, and never giving back. He freely gives grace, finances, strength, and peace.
Do I, or do I not, have the mind of Christ?
Scripture says that I do.
Then my mind ought to be equally disposed give to the needy around me.
How does God give? Does He worry that He will run out? Does He question whether the person is worthy? (The answer would always be no, wouldn't it?) Does He look at how many times that same person has been needy in the past and has applied to him for aid? Does He experience a rising feeling of panic that He will never be able to get away from this needy person if He once starts to give?
So how can I practically enter into accessing God's unlimited resources for the needy people around me?
For starters, I can recognize that I walk in obedience. For everything God has called me to do, I can expect Him to supply out of the bottomless aquifer. The women begging outside the store are perhaps outside my call to obedience, unless God specifically prompts me to give in a certain instance (which He has done before, and which I have heeded). In any case, I can expect God to provide for them with or without using me as a tool to give them something. I need not feel annoyed that they beg, but rather love them and feel compassion that circumstances have compelled them to resort to begging.
Secondly, I can confidently and fearlessly spend myself wherever God calls me to do so. I can offer myself a living sacrifice and go all the way down into death if need be, if God should so desire. I need not attempt to keep a "reserve store" of energy or love or funds, because I have discovered that as I draw from His supply, He constantly replenishes that supply as much and as often as needed. My supplies ran out long ago. Everything I have is from Him. The children who surround me every day are the calling that God has currently given me. If I look to Him for the love and kindness that I spend on them, I need not ever feel annoyed at their neediness or sense that I have run out of anything to give them.
The next time I am tempted to protest, "You're not allowed to be needy!" I can stop and reconsider, and change my story to, "I'm not allowed to be the judge of your neediness--I will obediently and cheerfully follow God into whatever He calls me to do for you."
The key is God's call. I could start looking around and seeing neediness all around me, and it would be overwhelming, even should the entire world try to invest in relieving the needs. The only variable on my end is obedience. I must look up, not around, and merely obey, not try to invent ways for myself to be heroic and save the world. God has already done everything needful to achieve that. I simply enter into His initiatives, and when that involves giving to the needy (which it frequently will), I can freely and bountifully do so because of His power working in me.