With this pandemic and so many suffering right now, I have been thinking a lot about how can I help? It's a given that Christians should be sacrificially compassionate towards others. It's time for us to really step up to the plate.
I plan on writing some posts about altruism. "Altruism" is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. I have lots of ideas.
I thought a very good way to begin this series is with a look at our attitude about giving to others. And so I begin with an example of having the wrong attitude - expecting those we are "helping" to be appreciative and thank us.
About twenty years ago my husband and I were in a couple's Bible study group. Somehow a woman in our group found out about this family who lived near our church who was going through a really hard time. (Disclosure here. My memory is pretty bad and how I'm relaying this story might be off on the facts some - but it is how I remember it. The facts aren't that relative to the point though.) We decided as a group we would help this family however we could. It was a husband and wife and their four school-age children. They lived in Section 8 housing. The woman was unemployed looking for a job. They had one car and it was broke down. The husband had to catch rides to work. They were behind in their bills. Their front door lock was broke. So we looked at their needs and came up with ways to help them.
The car: Someone in our group knew a mechanic and got him to fix the car at cost for parts and charge no labor. We paid the bill.
The unemployed woman: One couple owned their own business and the wife used one of their connections with a business within walking distance of this woman's home. Granted it would be a long walk. The person hiring was willing to work with this woman and give her hours on weekends and when her children were at school. We got the lock fixed so that she could go to the job knowing her home was secure. The job was all lined up. For whatever reason this woman decided at the last minute to not take the job. This rubbed me the wrong way to be honest. She had been handed a job on a silver platter and she turned it down.
Behind in their bills: One woman in our group really pulled strings to get them an appointment with a city ministry which works with people - helping them to negotiate with billing companies, provides food and clothing donations, works with government housing, employment help,... That meeting did not go well. The couple was not willing to do the things they needed to do for the ministry to help.
I spent a lot of time on the phone with Section 8 housing to try to get some repairs done to their home - like the lock. Also to see what other housing options were available. Nothing came of it. And I actually got an earful about some people trying to take advantage of the housing system and this family might not be on the up and up with us.
The parents wanted nothing to do with church, but allowed their children to be picked up and taken every week to the children's ministry at our church. The kids loved it! Our church has an awesome children's ministry!
At Thanksgiving we pitched together for a Thanksgiving feast for them. All the trimmings. At Christmas we did the same. I reached out to my women's Bible study group to provide gifts for the children and parents. Everyone was so generous. We wanted to make it a special Christmas for them. Several of us took the gifts and food to their house. The wife said, "Thanks." But it wasn't in an appreciative way. The husband didn't get off the couch, didn't acknowledge us - we got nothing from him. It angered my husband and he said he was done with them. By this point I was worn out too.
The enthusiasm in trying to help this family waned after Christmas although I think the kids did continue being driven to church for awhile. The family ended up moving from NC to SC.
Our group's attempt at altruism was over.
Was it a failure? I have pondered that. We accomplished getting their car fixed, their lock fixed, and provided them with a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas. The real win was taking their kids to church every week where they could hear about God's love for them. We'll never know how God used that in His scheme of things. So if nothing else, that made it a success.
Was it the best way to help these people? I have pondered that too. It became obvious they didn't really want our help. Well they did in the way that they wanted to get out of us what they could. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that is just my impression of what happened. Maybe they were embarrassed about needing help. OK, that is probably really giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Was our heart in the right place? I think it was. Our Bible study group had some very sweet people in it who were passionate about their faith. Good people who truly wanted to help meet the needs of this family. We had nothing to gain from helping them. We were willing to bend over backwards to be of service. I'm not sure if we went about it the right way though, but I'd say our hearts were in the right place.
So why did it bother me so much that they were unappreciative of our help? Do I expect a thank you from people when I'm helping them? Is that going to be my MO that 'I'll help you if I can, but if you don't thank me, I'm done with you?' Sadly, I came to realize I want to bend over backwards only so far for someone. I did expect a thank you.
Matthew 5:38-48 are the words of our Lord.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
I read this and when it gets to the part "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" and I think 'If I only help others who thank me, what reward will I get?'
Help others out of service to God. Don't expect to be recognized or appreciated or thanked. Be selfless.
This whole thing was a learning experience for me; one I think God very much purposed for me to have. God may have used it to impact those four children and their parents. He may have used it to somehow spiritually grow the people in our Bible study group. I don't know how God used it and frankly, it isn't of concern for my pretty little head. He was clearly telling me to stop expecting others to thank me for doing what He has asked me to do. My service, my gifts, my very being was for His glory to use as He wants. Not my glory. I was to learn to have sacrificial compassion for others. It isn't a lesson I have down pat. But He is working on me.
My take away from that long ago experience was it is not about me, it is about Him.