Twas the night of December 23rd on the South Side of Chitown.
I had just finished my last minute grocery store run in support of my father cooking the Christmas meal.
With the groceries loaded into the car, I sat in the grocery store parking lot with the engine turned on and allowed myself to become distracted by my Instagram feed for a few minutes.
“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me.”
These are the words I heard, slightly diminished by the volume of the car radio and muffled by my closed, driver’s side window.
I looked to my left and saw a tall, middle aged man. This gentleman was relatively unassuming but I rolled down my window leaving only the few inches of space required to hear him more clearly.
Like I said, the man looked harmless but years of street-knowledge taught by the school of hard knocks still made me mindful of anyone unexpectedly rolling up on you in a store parking lot; especially around Christmas time.
“Sorry to bother you, sir. But my family and I are just trying to get enough money for a gallon or 2 of gas so that we can get home (he points to his left…very non-specifically at a group of cars as if to say that one of those was his car )
“I don’t want to bother you” he continued. ” But anything would help.”
I was a little skeptical about how true his claims were. But anyone who has been around me for an extended period of time will tell you that I am usually enthusiastic to give money to those who I say they are in need. I’ll even give when I feel that there may not be a true need. So despite my doubt, I reached in my pocket, pulled out the last few dollars I had on me, gave it to him through the window, wished him peace and blessings and expected that to be that.
Once I gave him the money, he looked very grateful. Looking as though he were fighting back tears, he thanked me profusely and told me that I didn’t know how much my contribution meant to him.
But then he did something else. Something that my peers would call “extra”.
As if he were talking on the phone into the headset in his ear, he said-
“ ok, baby. The nice man here gave me a few dollars and now I’m on the way to grab the gas. No! No! No! It’s ok. Stay there, baby. I’ll be back.”
He was gesturing toward the grocery store entrance in the distance as if the person he were talking to on the phone was in plain sight. I looked over and saw no-one.
He was clearly doing this to further convince me that he hadn’t made up the story about his family and gas money. But like I said, no one was there. My skepticism was elevated. He thanked me once more and then proceeded to walk away towards 87th street, the main street where stores, a train station and yes, gas stations would be.
Now at this point, I was more upset that he would insult my intelligence by pretending to talk someone than I was regretful of the fact that his plea could have been a scam.
For a few seconds I considered following him to see where he was “really” going.
Cue the “Mission Impossible” theme. Imagining my best C.I.A / Dick Tracy imitation, I was going to trail him in my car until I caught him in the middle of a lie.
3 seconds into my urban espionage fantasy , my conscience QUICKLY slapped the crap out of me.
“Will, what that heck do you need to follow this man for?
(I immediately stopped following the man with my eyes).
That’s not like you.
You gave to this man because you yourself have been FREELY given love, mercy, grace and kindness your ENTIRE LIFE! When God inspired those who have given much to you, they didn’t subject you to some bullcrap purity test based on your mannerisms
or YOUR MANY FLAWS.
They gave to you because it’s the right thing to do.
You gave because it’s the right thing to do.
What this man chooses to do with with that giving is not your responsibility, homeboy!
Release yourself from this petty need to justify your suspicions and drive home!”
I was relieved by this moment of clarity. Away I drove
This is the message I want to pass on to you all.
If you’re going to give, give with gladness not burdened by suspicion or regret.
Don’t get it twisted. There are people in this world who unfortunately take advantage of the kindness of others for dishonorable reasons.
I don’t write all of this to say that you should just give to any and everyone who asks of you.
I don’t want you to think that you should be a willing doormat for strangers and friends to take advantage of. I also don’t want you to abandon your intuition.
After all, it’s our use of common sense and intuition that protects us from abuse and danger. It’s how we know not to let obvious predators into our home or suspected thieves into our bank accounts.
But what I’m saying is that once you’ve reached the point in your decision making where your heart and your mind have instructed you to give, then you must release yourself from the kind of worry that can give way to regret and stinginess.
Have you ever asked a friend or family member for a favor and even though they agreed, you could feel their skin crawling, regretting helping you? It made you wish you had never asked, right?
Yeah… don’t be that person
dictionary.com defines giving this way-
“to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow”
2nd Corinthians (or “TWO” Corinthians if you’re Donald Trump) Chapter 9 V. 6 says
“..let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Giving should be a joy and a pleasure. Don’t stifle it with your doubts. Be content with doing what you felt in your heart was right and as we say, give the rest to God.
I have a news flash for you..
I’m not as smart as I think I am. That may come as a shock to some. But it’s true.
No matter how incredible I believe my body language decoding skills are or how accurate my “sincerity of the voice” detector is, the truth is that I have no idea what a stranger is actually going through. That man could have very well been telling the truth and needed gas money to get he and his precious babies home 2 days before Christmas.
Or maybe he wasn’t being completely honest.
We as small-minded human beings only consider 2 possibilities for dishonesty and giving money. We assume that either the person is a drug addict in search of a fix or that they are running an elaborate scheme in which they make millions of dollars of year begging for change every day.
But what if this man’s real circumstance is so desperate and painful that even he knows that his truth may sound too bad to be true?
He could have been in need of an few extra dollars to be able to get life changing/life saving medicine that he can’t afford.
Maybe he really needs money for food but felt less shameful asking for gas money.
Perhaps the gas in his home has been cut off and he needs to gather up enough bucks to turn the heat on in the middle of a Chicago winter.
Or just maybe all of the above are true!
The reality is that you never truly know what someone else’s truth is until you take the time to walk with them on their journey.
Remember, good people!
There are many ways to give. Your time. Your money. Your talents. Your love. However you choose to give and however much you decide to give, do so with enthusiasm. You may occasionally be disappointed by someone falling short, but your gladness will keep the light of your generosity flame burning bright so that that the next person you meet will get the blessing they deserve- a blessing that will inspire them to pass the blessing on to the next person. And so on and so on. Amen