I’ve shared before about the power of Communion vs. Charity. I can’t stress enough just how critical this is to everything we do at New York City Relief. This is the center of the center. I met a guy in New York Penn Station a little while ago. He approached me because he saw that I was giving new socks and toiletry-kits to a few gentlemen who were across the hall. He walked over and very bluntly and brusquely demanded, “what you givin’ out?”
A lot of people who engage the homeless in an attempt to do a good or charitable deed get irritated when their deed isn’t appreciated or received with joy. The attitude can be summed up like this: “I go to all this trouble to volunteer my time to serve and give, the least ‘they’ can do is be appreciative.”
Honestly, when my new friend approached me with “what you givin’ out,” my heart immediately filled with resentment and I judged him for not appreciating my philanthropy or, even worse, thinking that somehow he was entitled to the gifts that I was so generously and sacrificially offering.
This is the intrinsic problem with good deeds, or charity: they are entirely about me. My goodness. My deeds. My, my, my.
When I bring charity to the table expecting the poor or homeless person to recognize and validate my generosity and they don’t respond the way I expect or, dare I say, need them to, I resent them because they are not fulfilling their end of this self-absorbed equation.
Now contrast that attitude with communion. Knowing myself and knowing my propensity for judgmentalism, I moved past my resentment and asked the name of my demanding new friend. I asked him where he was from. I asked him what kind of socks and toiletries he could use the most. Then I told him I was hungry and I would be honored to buy him something if we could sit and eat together. He agreed.
When we sat down to break bread at that KFC and I asked if I could thank God for the food that we were about to enjoy the entire dynamic of our relationship changed. Yes, I had paid for his food but we were sitting at the same table, eating the same meal. And in that moment of communion we were no longer two needy souls feeding on each other, him on me for socks and necessities and me on him for validation and self-righteousness, we were two needy souls feeding on Jesus.
He shared with me that he fell out of a window from several stories up when he was 3-years-old because he was with his grandma and she lived in a room with no bars on the windows. Because of that fall he suffers from seizures. His family abandoned him. And just 24 hours earlier he lost track of his girlfriend when he went into the hospital. It’s easy to lose people when you have no common meeting place to lay your head and no phone to touch base. He shared and he shared some more. It was beautiful.
Did you know that when you give someone who is financially poor or without a home something for free that they are actually paying for it with emotional capital? They are paying you with their pride and trust me when I tell you, that their pride doesn’t come cheap.
So next time you volunteer at a soup kitchen, food pantry, homeless shelter, or drop-in center, remember that the people you serve are not receiving “hand-outs” because in exchange for your time and resources, they are offering you the privilege of being in the position of the one who serves. By accepting your generosity, they have paid with their very selves, and they owe you nothing more.
Grace and Peace,