As Donnie and I headed out to lunch with Doah, I had a very specific scenario in mind: someone panhandling, asking for lunch money. Prior to lunch, I wanted to run into Kohl's to look for a new outfit since I have lost enough weight that most of my clothes do not fit properly. As we drove into the parking lot of a shopping mall where we had never been before, having set the GPS to find the store for us, I saw a man with a card on the exiting side of the entrance into which we were driving. Could this be our lunch partner, I wondered and mentally made plans to check for him after we finished at Kohl's and before heading to Roundtable Pizza, the sign for which we had noticed upon driving into the parking lot.
My errand at Kohl's took longer than I thought because I could find nothing appropriate or that fit. Finally, I gave up. By then both Doah and Donnie were hungry. We looked around for the pizza place, but it did not seem to be anywhere near its sign but on the other side of the very large parking lot -- large enough that we had to drive there. I glanced at where the panhandler had been standing, and he was not there. Hm...
Well, there was nothing to be done about that. We went into Roundtable, ordered some rather run-of-the-mill pizza, ate it, and left.
We left the parking lot through a different exit, one with a street that had a light at the end of the block. At the end of the block, by the light, there stood the panhandler who had been at the other exit when we entered a couple of hours earlier. That took me by surprise. He held a card that said "Hello, peace be with you. Please help. God bless."
This did not fit with the image I had had in my head. I had expected to find him before lunch and take him to lunch, not hand him money. Moreover, he looked like he was not desperate, like he did not even really need any money. Although I had no change with me, I did have a spare $10 bill in the car visor that we used for emergency cash, but I hesitated to hand it over. I was focused on the way I had planned on helping, not on this new scenario.
The light stayed red a very long time. I was able not only to think about the situation but also to talk about it.
Doah spoke up. "Belle [the woman in charge of his group home] says not to give my money away." Of course, she says that. He gets very little pin money from SSI and only about $5 a week from his sheltered workshop duties. Nonetheless, he would give all of it away. I have seen him do it. So, Belle was only looking out for Doah's interests in telling him that.
While I was debating whether to be charitable to this man or not, the person in the car behind me held out a dollar bill, and the man walked over to accept it. Well, at least someone helped, I thought.
Before I had time to consider any further, the light turned green, and Donnie drove off. As we left the area, I realized, too late, that this may very well have been the person in need that I asked God put in my path. Why, otherwise, would he appear in the spot where we entered and then reappear in the very different spot where we exited? And why would the light stay red such a very long time? I was so focused on the lunch option, on my plan, that I did not think soon enough about forking over our $10 emergency gas cash. Yet, somehow, I think that is exactly what I was supposed to do, like the people in the car behind us did, setting an example that I did not follow.
I do not know why I hesitated although I could make some guesses. A small part of the reason probably was the influence of Belle's words although they really did not apply in this situation. Another small part of the reason may be something that occasionally (actually, too frequently) causes me to hesitate: I wonder if the panhandler will use the money for bad things, not good things (but I know it should not be up to me to make that judgment). The biggest part, the important piece, I finally realized is that I was so focused on my plan that I probably totally missed God's plan.
I immediately felt miserable; I felt like I had failed God. Actually, I think I did fail God. So, now I am begging God to give me another chance -- and really hoping that I won't blow it the next time.
As I was writing this post -- I started it on Sunday -- I came across a post that helped me see the situation in a different light and thus to react differently. That post was written by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom -- a site that is on my blogroll because I find many of the posts insightful and educative) and titled Still Hoping for Failure.
Fr. Christian had written:
"May we not let our own failures to follow Christ get in the way of our faithfulness to Him. We don’t have to be perfect Christians. It is enough to simply ask for mercy when we need it and remember that love never fails."
So now, I am going to ask for mercy, forgive myself, and beg God for another chance. (I am also going to start carrying McDonald's gift cards because that way I might not be as likely to hesitate. It seems that I may have to protect myself against my own second guessings if I want to do any good in this world.)
Note: Simultaneously published on Blest Atheist and H2 Helper.