Giving to the Worthy

Credit: Raja Ravi Varma on Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Credit: Raja Ravi Varma on Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Christian women’s conferences are weird gatherings. You spend several hours on a rickety bus, or carpool with friendly acquaintances you mostly know from Sunday services, to the nearest large city, then pile out with totes and weekend bags at the cheap-ish hotel you’ll be calling home this evening. Then you hook up with your roomie, frantically searching for common ground to bond over as you ride the elevator and walk the dizzying carpet to your room, tossing in luggage and heading back down to the lobby. The addicts mark out the nearest coffee shop as you unload at the city’s convention center which has a banner draped over its entrance, or a flashing sign on the marquee, welcoming conference-goers. A day and a half is spent in concert-like worship services, inspiring talks by Christian speakers, probably crying or comforting a cryer after a particularly meaningful message. Meals are shared in lobbies or chain restaurants where you worry that everyone will tip generously so that you aren’t associated with one of those Christian groups. Maybe you buy a new journal or a few books, and then back on the bus to head home.

I love these events. There is something energizing to me about gathering en masse with other believers, singing and learning and sharing. There’s an openness to people here that can rarely be found back home. Cheesy as they can sometimes be I love the environment of a conference, and women’s conferences are unique among their ilk.

Many years ago, I was at one of these events with a group of women I didn’t know very well. They were all nice women, funny and kind and buzzing at the short stint of freedom they were experiencing from responsibilities back home. I felt my introversion wrap itself around me like a cloak on the three-hour drive, and all weekend found myself slipping away to head to the bus before the rest of the group whenever we departed the hotel, restaurant, or conference center.

At the end of the first evening’s session I started to make my way back to the bus alone. As I crossed the street away from the conference center I saw a young man squatted down against the half-wall framed by the corner sidewalk I was approaching. He had long hair hanging over his face and a cup in his hand he was shaking almost absently, like it was an afterthought to some other more important matter he was addressing behind his hair. Initially I just walked past, like I always do in those moments. A friend who lives in Chicago often laughs at my awkwardness with the homeless in her city; every time someone approaches us I ball up in an angsty fit of pain and confusion. It’s very disorienting.

But for some reason, about halfway to the bus I slowed, then stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, and turned back. Maybe it was the compelling talk I’d just listened to, or the softening of spending several hours singing to God, or just the discordance I felt of this throng of Christian women passing by this man who could see the sign announcing our purpose right there above the door we poured out from. I walked back to him and crouched down next to him, shoulder to shoulder. I put a little money in the cup so I didn’t come off as one of those I’ll-leave-a-tract-instead-of-a-tip jerks. And I asked him his name. The hair curtain shifted in my direction a bit as he turned to regard me, then a hand raised to part the waves and he looked me in the eye as he told me. His eyes were absolutely piercingly blue, and with his face framed with dark wavy hair he was kind of beautiful. I asked him a few questions, found out what unfortunate trail had led him here. He asked me a few in return. Then I asked if there was anything I could pray for him about, to which he said “Pray that I find my way back to Jesus, ’cause I know He hasn’t lost me. And that I could figure out what my next move should be.” Then he asked if I’d pray for him right there, right then. So a young white girl alone in a strange city separated from the group of acquaintances she’d come with closed her eyes and held the hand of a strange homeless man on the corner of a street swarming with Christian ladies from half a dozen flyover states.

This isn’t a blog post about how we should be trying to minister to the homeless. Or making fun of Christian conferences. Or a warning against being a stupid if well-meaning believer. Or even about seeing people for who they are, recognizing that every annoying salesperson, homeless guy, jerk driver, or passive-aggressive coworker is a child of God made in His image struggling through their story just like you. It’s a blog post about giving whatever you have, to whomever is in front of you, as often as you can. Whether that’s a moment of friendship, or beauty, or kindness, or civility, or truth, or peace. Let go of figuring out who deserves what from you, constantly “giving” from a sense of lack, a feeling of scarcity that says you only have so much kindness and you don’t want to waste it on the undeserving. You aren’t a scarce resource, not if your love is overflowing from a source beyond yourself. So go ahead and give it away, and receive it in just as great an abundance from every source you can. Because God is the giver of all good gifts.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you. And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream. And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worthy naked and their pride unabashed? See first that you deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.

~ Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

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1 Comment

  1. jrbenjamin said,

    November 12, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Interesting.


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