My wife and I were out for our morning walk on a cold December morning. We were busy talking about our plans for family holiday activities when we met part of a small family coming toward us—a woman and two children.
The woman was African—or at least the bright dress she wore, with no coat, seemed African. The children, a girl of about nine and a boy of about six or seven, wore thin jackets. The girl had outsize shoes that looked like they could have been her mother’s, or perhaps something from a thrift store rack. My mind registered the mother and children as perhaps recently arrived refugees. I hoped they had a secure place to settle in.
We were several seconds past them when a voice whispered in my mind, “She could have used that $20 bill you’re carrying in your pocket. You were looking for a way to donate to charity.”
I looked over my shoulder but could not see them. Which way had they gone? Around the corner to the store we just came from? Down a side street? Into one of the houses along here? No, probably not that.
Why am I so slow to see opportunity right in front of me?
What would she have said if I had offered her the money?
Most of us probably walk around every day overlooking opportunities to give and to serve. Often we’re too wrapped up in our own concerns; that is not only usual, but normal for mortals. We have to look outward to discern how others may be in need. The tip-off might not be a frayed old coat. It might be a frayed life, or a threadbare, gloomy outlook. It might be thin, struggling faith.
Maybe it’s too awkward to think of helping; we don’t know how to begin. Maybe “You have a problem and I want to help” could be phrased a bit more diplomatically. “Is there a way I could help you? May I?”
Maybe there’s a risk that helping could get out of control. “If I offer to help, they may take me up on it, and I have so much giong on right now. . . .” If we’re going to say “May I help?” we’d better mean it.
Offering to help might lead to more of a commitment than I expect. “What if $20 isn’t enough? That’s all I have to give right now.” Not so. We can give time, we can share faith in the heavenly proclamation of peace to mankind, and we can share resources. If we don’t have more money to give, perhaps we know someone who does. Or perhaps the time we give could help someone in need find spiritual or temporal aid to take away hopelessness or pain.
A little thought can open our minds to a lot of possibilities.
And what would that woman have said if I had stopped to offer her the $20?
I don’t know. But next time I’m going to find out.