Just the other day an incident happened that really upset me. It upset me enough to want to discuss it here. I’m angry with the way I reacted. I am second-guessing myself, even after many hours have passed. I just don’t know the best way to handle situations like this.
Maybe there never will be a best way.
I work in Pittsburgh PA, USA. It’s not a huge metropolitan area by any stretch, but we have our share of city concerns. In my situation just the other day, it was the homeless.
I often walk during my lunch break. I need to step away from my desk and computer and the software I’m working on. Just the other day, a woman, perhaps in her early 40’s, sat on the steps of the City-County Building.
“Sir, can you help me? Sir . . .”
I stopped. I had seen her walking the streets earlier in the morning. “Please, Sir. I’m homeless and I haven’t eaten in two days.”
I don’t like doling out money to the homeless for many reasons. Within a half of a block, I knew of a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, a sidewalk hotdog vendor, and a Dunkin' Donuts. “Come on,” I said. “I’ll get you something to eat.”
“Friday’s,” she said and pointed over her shoulder. “On Fifth.”
I stared at her. Was she scamming me? As far as I knew, there weren’t any Friday’s downtown. “I don’t know where that is,” I replied.
“Up on Fifth. I’ll take the bus.”
Unsure of the situation, I still grabbed my wallet. “I have a couple of bucks I can give you.” I started to pull out two $1.00 bills.
“I need ten dollars!” she begged. “Can I have ten dollars?”
My hand stopped and I glared at her, anger rising. “You’re sitting there begging and you’re telling me how much to give?” I snapped. I shoved my money and wallet back into my pocket and walked away.
Even now as I post this, her cries for forgiveness echo in my ears. Yes, I am second-guessing myself.
The Bible is full of admonitions regarding the poor and fatherless. However, we’re also to be wise. I am not deaf to the plight of others. I regularly volunteer at a community food bank. My wife and I have stood on the streets of Pittsburgh several times with a local ministry, feeding the homeless. I had visited and counseled inmates in a maximum-security prison for several years.
Still, in this one incident, with this one woman at the City-County Building, I am second-guessing myself. Could I have handled it differently? Was I right to get angry? Maybe there were mental issues. Was I just being a good steward with my money?
A verse keeps circling in my head: “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters . . .”
Doubt is a terrible feeling.