I was sitting in a Tim Hortons a few weeks ago, having coffee with a friend, when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard someone say, “Hi, there!”
I turned around, and tried my very hardest to figure out who the man might be who was standing there, grinning down at me as though he knew me.
But then he started talking, and it took about two seconds to realize this would be one of “those” conversations – the kind you know you will have if you don’t walk very quickly past the person begging on the street, along with the feelings you are guaranteed to have if you happen to be the first car in line at a red light, and happen to make eye contact with the homeless man standing there with his cardboard sign, asking for your help.
I do not have a lot of experience with these types of interactions. I don’t spend much time in places where they happen. We don’t have a lot of homeless people in Niverville.
I used to believe the best thing to do was to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, and I never used to think I should actually give my money, because we all know how it will get spent , right??
Whatever. I’m not sure at what point I finally learned that it’s none of my business what it gets spent on. If I have loose change, I give it, and I let God take care of the rest.
I’ve rolled down my window at a red light, and dumped my collection of dimes and nickels into the hands of a very grateful elderly man. He was also extremely thankful for my leftover lunch.
I have felt those nudges from the Holy Spirit, and have known what it’s like to listen, to give my time and my money, even when I don’t exactly feel like it.
So when this man came over at Tim Horton’s, I thought things would go okay, even if I don’t have a ton of experience with those types of situations.
He asked if he could sit down and talk with us. Seeing as the table right beside us was empty, I figured it wouldn’t make much difference whether I said yes or no – he’d sit down beside us anyway.
He made himself comfortable, and started talking. And talking and talking. I was still doing okay, because I kept thinking about how I could easily give a few minutes of my day to listen.
But then he started talking about how much he wanted a girlfriend, and asked me out on a date. When I turned him down, he tried my friend, which was equally unsuccessful. He wanted numerous hugs, and that’s about the point where I shut down.
Suddenly, I didn’t care about giving my time or a listening ear. I had reached the limit of my comfort zone.
I just wanted out.
He kept asking us for stuff. He wanted me to give him something from my purse – nail polish or lipstick. I honestly told him I didn’t have any. So he asked my friend if she had any, and she said no, but she had almonds.
He was very happy for almonds, but then he wanted the bracelet she was wearing, so she took it off and gave it to him.
In my mind, I was thinking, “No, no, no, get me out of here! This is not cool anymore.”
So when he asked me for my scarf, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was “no”.
There were a few things I was thinking when he asked for my scarf:
1) He has a good-quality jacket, and a very warm winter hat. He doesn’t need my scarf.
2) No, no, no, get me out of here!
3) This is my most favorite scarf. I use it all the time.
Nope. No scarf.
And I didn’t even feel guilty for saying no. There was absolutely no nudge from the Holy Spirit on that one.
My friend and I left soon after that, because there was no way we could finish our conversation in the restaurant, so we went and talked in my car.
She had to catch her bus soon after that, and I drove home, thinking the whole way about how she had handed over those almonds with absolutely no hesitation.
And I felt ridiculous. It was a scarf, for crying out loud. Could I not have gone out and bought another one?
I kept arguing with myself – I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit telling me to give it. I would have, if I’d felt the nudge. Obviously.
But I’m not sure when I would have heard any heavenly direction, amidst my “No, no, no, get me out of here!”
Since then, it seems as though every single sermon illustration, or Bible study topic, or verse, or anything, has to do with giving stuff to the poor.
It’s to the point where a homeless person would only need to look at my scarf, and I would hand it over. The joy has kinda gone out of wearing it.
I’ve hashed this out with Ben, numerous times. He’s better at these kinds of things.
I keep asking him, “How do you know? Do you always need to give? I didn’t hear the Holy Spirit! The man looked warm! And it’s my favorite!”
And Ben just says, “It’s never wrong to give.”
(My favorite green scarf. Photo by Jillian Tree.)
I still don’t know how this all works. I know there are people out there who know exactly how to act in situations like mine. But I also know there are people who probably feel as clueless and uncomfortable as I do.
And I know that I need practice. I need to go to soup kitchens or to other organizations that bridge this awkward gap. I need to get out of my comfort zone, and learn to give and love and share.
I need to go out and find someone who needs my scarf. I need a second chance.
I forgot that it was really Jesus asking for my scarf.
I was naked and you clothed me…
How do you do this? How do you give, and get out of your comfort zone? Do you ever wish you could go back and try again?