Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"give to him who asks"

As I mentioned before, I've been reading this book about Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa: A Simple Path). One thing that strikes me about them is their lack of the need to control those they serve. As the sisters explain in the book, at Calcutta's home for the dying, they don't try to convert the people who come to them for help. They provide Hindus and Muslims with burial services and practices that are consistent with those traditions. Basically, they let their actions speak for themselves. "Results" - whether measured in terms of numbers converted or saved from drug addiction or healed of disease or whatever - are not emphasized nearly as much as "process". As the sign on the wall of one of their Calcutta homes says, "It is not how much you do, but the love you put into the doing that matters."

I was thinking about this kind of "love in action" as I pulled into the parking lot of Barnes and Noble on Sunday. A middle-aged man with sandy hair, glasses and a plaid shirt waved me down and asked me if I could spare any change. I don't know about other cities, but I've noticed that in Salt Lake the new story is always that the money is needed for gas. They are passing through town, they ran out of gas, they just need money for gas and they will be on their way. In fact, every time I've been approached in a parking lot in the past few years, this is the story. Anyway, all the reasons not to give money to this man went through my head. "Maybe he's lying about needing gas. He will use it for drugs or alcohol. My money won't do anything for him. It won't change him or get him a job or whatever he needs. Why should I give him my hard-earned money? If I give him money it will just encourage him to keep preying on kindhearted strangers in parking lots." Etc., etc.

But here he was, asking me for help. Another voice spoke in my mind. "Give to him who asks of you, and to him who would borrow from you, do not turn away." I imagined Mother Theresa and the missionaries, who give away everything that comes to them and make it a point not to turn anyone away who comes to them for help. There is a freedom in that. I don't need to know the history of the one in need, or the outcome of any gift I give. As Momma T. said, "We are not called to be successful, but we are always called to be faithful." I gave the man some money. Maybe I'm a sucker, but in some way it is hard to describe, it was more satisfying to know I gave something away than to listen to all the reasons not to. Maybe this is part of the meaning of "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

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