Friday, November 16, 2012

When to Help and When to Stop

As Christians, I believe it is our calling to care for our neighbor.  Jesus was about as clear as a bell on that teaching.  No one I know of argues about that teaching.  Folks just have different ways of implementing it.

Sometimes, I wish Jesus had been a little more specific in His teachings.  I wish He'd have given a few more guidelines and helpful hints like: "help your neighbor when he is in need, but don't let him take advantage of you."  Or, "Give to everyone who is in need, but you don't have to give them everything they want."  Or, "When it becomes obvious your neighbor is trying to take advantage of  your good nature, gently tell them you will not help them anymore."

Such teachings would be immensely helpful when working with people who ask for assistance.

Our congregation has a community care fund, and we aren't bashful about helping folks out.  Not only do we help our own members, but we unhesitatingly help out those in the community who seek out help with rent, utilities, food, or even medical expenses.  I think the vast majority of my members are very proud of this ministry and our willingness to help others through it.

But it can be trying.  Very trying.  If you have ever worked with those in need, you know very quickly how word spreads that you give assistance.  Pretty soon, you get repeat customers, and that's where things begin to get sticky.   Sometimes those folks get pretty demanding, and sometimes even nasty in their responses.

I  had one woman who had asked for assistance four or five times.  The last time she submitted a request, she started having friends call the church to try to influence us.  Finally, she had some guy call who said he was "calling a lawyer in New York city" to sue us and make us pay her bills.  She didn't get assistance.

Recently, I've had another lady request funds.  Our congregation has already helped her with rent twice.  We've given $540 of assistance.  Nary did we receive a thank you or a "God bless you for your assistance."  Not that we are looking for such things, but they reveal the character of the one you help.  This month, she submitted a request for $595.  Apparently, she was no longer receiving unemployment benefits and rental assistance.  Her landlord had jacked up the price of her rent to its normal cost, and she wanted us to pay it. 

My secretary fielded the call, and the lady didn't even say please or address her in a pleasant tone of voice.  It ran right in line with the previous time when she called and said, "I need y'all to pay my rent."   Not only was she manner less, she lied.  She said we had only helped her once before.  When confronted with the facts (and the knowledge that we had her requests on file), she suddenly remembered.  In the conversation, my secretary said it became almost blatantly obvious this woman had obtained a job only to garner her first paycheck so that she could re-apply for unemployment.

Assist or not?

Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs." 

I try to honor His teachings.  On behalf of my congregation, I do not want them held accountable for sinning when they know what Jesus said.

But I'll be d@mned if I'm going to continue to help someone game the system.

I approved $50.  That's it.  Some will say it's too much, but, again, I'm letting Jesus guide here, not my own desires to tell her to find help someone else.  Plus, I can't lie and say we don't have the funds to help.  We do.  Two sins don't make something right.

My secretary called the woman and told her we could help to the tune of $50.  She was pissed.  Probably not as much that we were only giving $50, but because she got caught in what she was doing.  Tough. 

There comes a time when a person has to realize that giving help can make another dependent upon you.  There comes a time when a person has to realize that the selfish nature of humankind will arise and try to take advantage of people of good natures.  There comes a time when the best way to help another person is to stop helping and force that person to take the initiative to care for themselves.

Sometimes its tough to discern that point.  Sometimes it's hard because it seems so contrary to what Jesus calls us to do.  Yet, I do believe that one truly sometimes loves one's neighbor by telling that neighbor no.  I think in this case, it was appropriate.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Here in Miami I find myself in this situation from time to time.
As a Catholic, I have the Church behind me. Depending on the circumstance, I will take or send the person to Camillus House, or I will refer the person to our parish office who will then direct him or her to an agency of the Archdiocese.

One of the great tragedies of the splintered church is that a pastor in your situation has to act as a kind of pope -- you have to make all the decisions. Wouldn't it be better for the poor if we were united?