In Toxic Charity, author Robert Lupton writes about an exchange he had after a speaking engagement in a question and answer time.
An attractive woman in her 40’s stood up and asked,
“So how could you say that giving food to hungry people could possibly be hurtful?”
Those seated nearby nodded their heads in agreement.
It’s a question he hears often. He runs an urban ministry program and he and his wife live in a low-income, inner city community. His desire is teaching his neighborhood how to be productive, find jobs, manage their homes and raise respectful children.
The woman waits for Mr. Lupton’s response.
He explains that continually giving to the poor without any expectations in return fosters dependency and it becomes a way of life, chipping away at a person’s dignity until there is none left at all.
And the woman stares back at Mr. Lupton, seeming to understand what he’s saying, maybe for the first time.
And she speaks slowly as if she’s processing each word,
“Because it’s easier. It costs much less in time and money to run a food pantry, and that’s what the churches want. Churches want their members to feel good about serving the poor, but no one really wants to become involved in messy relationships.”
I close the book because it’s late and after a long day, slipping into bed feels like a luxury.
But it’s the messy relationships that keep me from falling asleep.
I’d rather smile and hand out food. Keep an arms length from messy.
I smile at her every Sunday. I don’t ask how she’s doing anymore because I’m afraid she’ll tell me. Or that she needs a ride. Or a babysitter. Or a new cel phone. Something is always wrong. And I don’t know what to say.
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving. ~2 Corinthians 8:2-4, 7
How do we “excel in this grace of giving”?
By opening our doors, our homes, our conversations, our wallets?
Are we called to give more than the food pantry just a few miles from our home: 2 chickens, 6 cans of vegetables, a cake too stale to sell in the bakery?
When others lives are chaotic and cluttered, we can offer more than what fits into flimsy bags.
It’s there our words may mean the most.
Where the hope message is clearest — someone cares – someone loves you.
It’s how we excel in the grace of giving.