Yesterday’s post about my visit from Joy was read by many, at least in terms of my stats. I appreciate the comments, likes, and shares. Today I received a message from a minister colleague in another part of the state a few hours away. Joy had visited her, too, a few weeks ago, and my friend had a similar experience of listening to her and helping her out. I am grateful she let me know.
And then I checked to see if I felt that thing I sometimes feel when I’ve helped a complete stranger: did I feel as though I had been duped, taken advantage of, conned?
In every church I have served, people come to church to ask for help, some in truly desperate situations and some looking for a handout. I believe in handouts, to a point; I think sometimes what a person most needs is $20 to buy what they want. But I also know that sometimes I have helped someone who then tells all his friends who also come seeking help. Or in one town where I worked, I listened to a guy poor out his soul about his family being innocent bystanders victimized by a crime, only to learn a a few weeks later that another pastor in town had heard the same story from the same guy the year before.
After twenty or so years of pastoring, I’ve decided I would rather err on the side of kindness, knowing that some of the people I help are really not all that desperate. So with regards to Joy, did I feel duped?
Anytime I hear a stranger tell me his or her story and then ask me for help, I know that person might not be telling me the truth or even the whole truth. I know people take advantage of the kindness of churches and pastors and church secretaries. I also know that sometimes a church is one of the few places where someone will be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their truthfulness.
My parents were both born in the 1930’s and their early childhoods were marked by the Great Depression. Neither grew up in families that were neither destitute nor wealthy; my grandfathers were both employed and my grandmothers ran their households with great efficiency. My dad was one of three children, my mom one of six. My mother remembers that whenever someone would come to the door looking for food, my grandmother would give that person something – a sandwich, an apple, toast with jelly. My grandfather worked in construction, and if a day laborer was needed, my grandmother would mention that to the person at the door.
To be kind is to risk being taken advantage of. To be generous is to choose to use resources for one thing and not for another. As a pastor, I have a sense that the time I have and the resources I offer are not solely mine; they are part of the congregation as well, and I want to be a good steward of their gifts. And sometimes I act on behalf of the congregation to live out the commands that Jesus gave.
So I don’t know if my Joy will come your way, or when another Joy will present herself to you. I don’t know what you will decide to do. I don’t know how you will make your decision. But maybe we all need a little Joy in our lives, for so many reasons.