Living in a major metropolitan area, my family and I have seen our fair share of the city’s poor and destitute begging for food, money and/or jobs on street corners and underpasses. While we try to give what we can, in many circumstances, this form of charitable outreach can seem dangerous due to the high volume of traffic on our roads and the general craziness of having and being in a vehicle in the Houston metro area. This, coupled with the prevailing wisdom that one generally should not be handing cash to strangers on the street corner for a myriad of reasons, makes it hard to engage with our brothers and sisters in this way. But it doesn’t stop the feeling of sadness and desire to help these people when we see them.
At the beginning of Lent this year, with this exact situation in mind, my husband decided that he would buy a handful of Chick-fil-A gift cards in $10 increments at a grocery and hand them out to some of these people that he noticed and wanted to help. All in all, a great solution, he thought. You are ensuring that these monetary gifts will help a person acquire food and - it’s Chick-fil-A! Who doesn’t like Chick-fil-A?
On his way back to work after buying said gift cards, he saw a gentleman under the same overpass that he sees every day, just a few blocks away from where he works. When stopped near the man at the stoplight, he rolled down his car window and handed the man a gift card. The man ran over to my husband’s vehicle and reached out his hand in acceptance of the gift but as soon as he observed what it was in his hands, he handed it back to my husband and shook his head, “no”.
Once he had processed exactly what had taken place, my husband's immediate reaction was, “Dude, it’s Chick-fil-A…who wouldn’t take a gift card for Chick-fil-A?”
In all charity and kindness, I will give anyone the benefit of doubt. Maybe the man had specific and just reasons for not wanting to take the gift card. We can't know for sure. But I certainly would have accepted it.
Directly following this event, my husband happened to be in my Upper School Choir classroom as a guest clinician. He recounted this story to the room full of 9-12th graders and then followed it with this question: “When have you done the same thing?”
The group of teenagers seemed stunned and after nervously looking side to side to gauge the reaction of their peers, a few of the students spoke up and one voice in particular cut through the silence, “I would never do that. Why would anyone do that?” To which my husband replied, “We all do that. Sometimes repeatedly, every day. I know I do.”
The crinkled faces of the students seemed to demand greater explanation. My husband then went on to point out the gifts God gives us every day that we are constantly rejecting. To the students, he pointed out that their education, their teachers, their siblings, parents and peers are all gifts. To adults, our jobs, our families, our ability to provide for ourselves and others, our freedom to worship. We often endure these things as burdens or even flat out deny that we have a responsibility to attend to them because doing so does not seem like what we want or what will make us feel good. These things simply cannot be gifts if we don’t want them, right?
The man under the overpass declined a gift that was generously given, and most people who hear this story cannot understand why. But we have to remember that we are doing the same thing constantly. Often denying freely-given gifts because we have failed to see them for what they truly are.