It was ironic, because I had just finished a conversation with a dear friend about generosity and how God had been driving home in me a personal responsibility to meet the needs of others. We pulled into the gas station, where two girls in their twenties (my age) were standing beside an old beater van with a cardboard sign that said “out of gas.” They looked like free spirits—dreadlocks, piercings, and a wide assortment of hemp jewelry. The vehicle was spray painted with flowers and peace signs, evidently a testament to hippie heritage of some description.
Somebody in front of me stopped and handed one of the girls a dollar. I hesitated. An employee came out asking the girls to leave. They were passive about it, but I could hear them insisting that they were out of gas. The employee left. Somewhat nervously—I don’t like talking to strangers or putting myself in awkward positions as a general rule—I approached them and asked where they were headed. Vermont, was the reply, and they had barely coasted into the parking space on fumes. I told them to wait five minutes while I went inside.
My intent was to pay for their whole tank of gas. This wasn’t personal merit on my part, just a sense of kinship to college aged travelers. It’s easy to want to help someone you’ve found has some relationship to yourself, perceived or otherwise. But that was when my bubble of Christian zeal bubble was burst. As I was trying to explain to the employees what I wanted to do, they interrupted me. These girls had been there dozens of times. The gas station had previously and was again calling the local police to get rid of them.
My gut reaction was an overwhelming sense of embarrassment—why exactly, I don’t know. Maybe for the sense that I had been taken in and everyone in earshot must think me gullible. Maybe because I had an absurd feeling of betrayal. Flummoxed, I bought two bottles of lemonade and returned to the pair, who were still casually leaning against the van with their sign clearly visible.
“Um, hey, the folks inside said you guys had been here before,” was both my explanation and apology. I offered the lemonade, which they accepted.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” the bolder one offered, somewhat weakly.
“I’ve never been here before,” the second added.
I just nodded, apologized again (for what I don’t know) and went to take care of my own empty gas tank. That was something else that irked me—that I didn’t have a whole lot to give in the first place, and they were willing to take that. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I half wanted to go back and carry out my original plan. I didn’t.
I guess I’m relating the whole thing to ask, how should that have gone? The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, but I can’t even claim that for this scenario. Christ asks both discernment and charity from His disciples. I didn’t exactly exercise either very well. But my question to the wide world is, when it comes to people asking for help how do you handle it?