Thoughts for too early on a Sunday morning:
We make it too easy to outsource compassion. This thought woke me up this morning, maybe because I still have to do my taxes today. Every year, I pay the government thousands of dollars to provide me with “government”. Some of it is good, like roads and border control. Some of it is stupid, like cowboy poetry festivals and paying artists to put crucifixes in urine.
And some of it I have mixed emotions about. Some of the money goes to provide people with food, and shelter, and medical care. These are all good and necessary activities, and I’m not going to rant today about how the way governments do this creates a culture of dependency. (Disclaimer: it does.)
But they take away something from people that’s just as important — the opportunity to give.
Not the obligation to give. We have plenty of that. We give because we’re told to. We give because we received when it was our turn. We give “back” because we feel guilty about having too much. But I wonder if we’re losing the ability to give simply because the opportunity arises.
Every once in a while the urge to give hits me. The first time I remember was when I was in college. I think it was Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and for some reason, I was feeling cheated because there was no one for me to buy flowers for. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went out and bought a dozen yellow roses and started walking around campus. I went and found my female friends (college guys don’t want other guys giving them flowers) who I knew weren’t dating someone (college guys don’t want other guys giving their girlfriends flowers either) and gave them a yellow rose, and then I left. By the time I was done, I had something like five roses left. So five times, when I saw a girl by herself, I’d walk up and hand her a rose. I’d say, “This is for you”, and then I’d walk away, leaving behind either a big smile or a puzzled, wary look. (That was the main reason I’d just walk away — so as not to frighten strange girls.)
I’ve done this a couple times since, usually when I needed to cheer myself up. I’ve found that there’s nothing that makes me feel better than seeing someone else smile. Nowadays, I just try to make people smile or laugh through the course of the day. It’s my God-given gift to be able to do that, and the people around me tell me I’m fairly good at it. Every so often, I run into someone (waitress, doctor’s assistant, salesperson, dry cleaning girl) that has a smile that lights up a room. As I’m leaving, I always try to tell her. (I do this as I’m leaving so there can’t be a quid pro quo.) You would think I was handing out wads of cash. Sometimes people just need to be complimented with no strings attached.
In the two versions of the Beatitudes, Jesus talks about both “the poor” and “the poor in spirit”. In both cases, he’s talking about giving people what they need, but he calls them “blessed”, not the people who give to them. (They get their blessings elsewhere in the Bible.) I think the blessing of being without is that it reminds us of the need to give. Jesus tells the disciples “The poor will be with you always.” I think that’s not a condemnation, but an opportunity not to be missed. People won’t always advertise what they need, sometimes out of pride, sometimes out of a sense of unworthiness. Those people can be hard to find.
The poor and the poor in spirit are never very far away, and their needs are rarely cryptic. Whatever else life has thrown their way, they give back opportunities for us to show compassion and love. We were created to give because we can by a God who gives to us because He can.
Don’t waste that opportunity. It’s really not good for you.