Friday, April 15, 2011

I felt like a jerk tonight

I don't know how to explain this really.

My wife went into a store to return some rented videos and I drove around the parking lot with one kid on the verge of throwing up into a cup and another fast asleep. I'd circle around in the time it would take for her to return to parking lot and I'd pick her up.

I make the first turn and a guy jumps out in front of my car. He's waving frantically. Not the kind of wave where he's trying to get me to stop but the kind of wave that says "Hello Stranger!" in a not quite right kind of way. The guy is obviously not right. I complete my circle around.

I pick up my wife and circled back around to find out what was up with this guy. He came up to the side of the car in a very excited way and I rolled down the window. The discussion went like this:

Me: Hi buddy, are you okay?

Him: Yes, I'm okay. I haven't eaten in three days.

Me: Why haven't you eaten?

Him: I'm homeless.

Me: Where do you stay?

Him: I sleep under a bridge

Me: Why are you homeless?

Him: I'm just homeless.

Me: That's not an answer. Why are you homeless?

Him: Because I get beat up at the shelter.

Me: Is that why you're outside?

Him: I'm mentally disabled.

This is where I felt like a jerk. I knew he was mentally disabled. I'm not trained in it but I know it when I see it. I didn't need him to say it though. He didn't owe me a confession. When he told me his face was sort of downcast and my heart broke.

I will help anyone who needs help and generously. Anyone who knows me knows that's true. But as someone who thinks like an adult I understand that not all help is really help. I just wanted to know what his need was. He just wanted to eat. I could tell immediately that he was honest and in need of genuine help. But somehow in my quest for info he felt that he needed to confess his disability. It happened and I didn't want it to.

I don't know if I can explain why I feel so bad. I didn't need him to be humble I just wanted a bit of background to know what I needed to do. I'm firmly convicted to help who Jesus called "the least of these."

I gave him some money and told him not to spend it all at once and save the change to get more meals tomorrow. He was excited to eat.

He probably isn't thinking about our interaction but I can't get it out of my head.

It's an interesting teaching moment for my older son. He has seen me talk to homeless people several times. He listens to me talk to them and asks me questions about why they are the way they are. Most of the time they never get my money but I'm never mean or disrespectful to them.

Everything went fine tonight and I was glad to help. I just felt like my questioning made the guy feel like he owed me something...and that made me feel like a jerk. You can bet when/if I see him again I'll have a meal with him and apologize. You can also bet he won't know what I'm even talking about.

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