Sometimes I’ll write a post, and then it will sit in my folder on my computer for years. I just dug this one up, read it again, and can’t really figure out why I never put it up here. So I’ve brushed it up a bit. One summer while I was in college, I lived at home in Dallas and went downtown at midnight on a Thursday with some friends to feed the homeless. I don’t write this now and didn’t write this three or four years ago to paint a picture of me as a loving and socially conscious human being. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I declined multiple chances to go downtown in the weeks prior to actually doing it because I honestly couldn’t convince myself I wouldn’t be going just to try and prove a point to a girl who’d recently told me she didn’t think I spent enough time around poor people. That got my blood boiling, but I didn’t feel like it was an appropriate impetus for service—that “I’ll show her” mentality.
In order to avoid the odds that this post would take on a tone of self-righteousness, the following is all that needs to be said about the evening itself. Just some numbers and facts that still resonate with me nearly four years later:
1. We fed more than forty people with less than thirty dollars.
2. I have never felt safer while being in downtown Dallas, despite being among this “rough” crowd at midnight.
3. Even though the homeless people had never seen me before they smiled, laughed, and talked with me as if I were just another friend.
4. One guy, Tony, said we were the answer to his prayers.
5. Another guy, Andre, had all his stuff stolen earlier that day, yet he had a joyful attitude.
6. The looks on their faces.
As with anything, you look back and realize there are sacrifices involved with, well . . . anything you do. That evening took the following toll:
1. I was tired the next day (got home at about 2:30 a.m.).
2. I had twenty fewer dollars in my wallet.
3. I would need to fill up on gas sooner than usual because of the drive.
Insignificant things to have to deal with the next day, especially when I consider I still slept better that night than those homeless people did due to the fact I had a mattress in an air-conditioned home (remember, this was in Texas during the summer; nighttime or not, it’s hot). My wallet may have been lighter, but I had a job, so that money could be replaced after just a few hours of work. And the gas? At least I have a car.
What still bothers me about that evening was how I waited so long before actually going out and doing this because I didn’t want it to be about selfish motives. I was talking to a friend, though, who said such deliberation isn’t really necessary. He said, “Okay, let me put it this way. If you are going to help the homeless to make yourself look better, is that ideal? No, but at least it gets you out there doing it. Selfish motives or not, that person still gets fed. And while you’re out there, God may very well use your interaction with the people you’re serving to break you of your inwardly-focused approach and enable you to see things through a new set of eyes.” He’s right. And besides, there’s no such thing as a truly, wholly pure motive. We are human, and we are fallen, but that doesn’t mean it needs to get in the way of serving others. That’s a bitter pill I needed to swallow.
Was it the right reason to go feed the homeless, just so I could prove that girl wrong and construct a salve for my wounded confidence and self-esteem? No, but it got me out there. And in this situation, the attempt to wait out selfishness before serving meant that everything was still ultimately focused back on me. Let’s say your average guy is aware that he’d feel bad about himself and hypocritical by going to feed the homeless out of a self-seeking attitude, so he tries hard to avoid that by making sure his motives are altruistic in order to avoid feeling bad. Even if he could get to that point, it’s still all about him.
What’s needed is to just go. It’s not about how much knowledge you have, how much philanthropy flows through you, or how much you can do. It’s only upon drawing nearer to something like service that God will begin to break our hearts. If we just keep distancing ourselves because we don’t think we’re selfless enough, well . . . we’re right. We’re not selfless enough. But that’s okay. God works on people. I have yet to see him stop.