Last night I sat in my front room watching a documentary. It was Memorial Day, and I was thinking about the cost of freedom and the damages of war. I have a son that is currently deployed in Afghanistan, and the holiday felt very personal this year.
That moment was interrupted by a loud knock on my front door. My 100 year-old house usually warns me with creaks and groans when someone crosses my front porch. But I was too deep in thought to notice.
One of my neighbors was at the door. I often see her pushing a grocery cart through the neighborhood as she collects materials to trade in at one of the local recycling centers. Until this moment, we had not spoken in person. When I opened the door, she blurted out “I need three dollars to pay for a bus ride to go see my daughter.”
I often feel unprepared for these opportunities that are an easy way to display the gospel. Prior to working at FCS, I didn’t interact with this level of need very often. Even as a pastor, my context did not involve a regular connection to material poverty. But in my current context, where this type of need shows up more often, I am learning to respond more carefully. I am learning to discern when it is wise to give and when it is wise to wait and listen more. I am learning to base my responses on relationship so that I can say, “I am happy to help” or “not this time.”
Some of Christ’s final words to his disciples involved the charge to love one another as he loved them. “This is how the world will know you are my disciples, by how you love one another.” The ability to apply loving discernment to the requests of my neighbors is a hard-won skill. I am often quick to gloss over this learning process, but it takes repetition and practice to become more skillful. Even, as in my case, if that skill involves learning to be a more loving and kind person.