JANE’S FALLS: This query seems to have two elements: material goods and emotional conditions. There is so much need all around – the homeless, unemployed, imprisoned, impoverished, illiterate, and so on – that I quickly feel overwhelmed, especially living apart from family and spiritual community within my neighborhood; I feel how little I can do in the face of this, especially when the real needs may be much deeper than those that can be seen. From this sense of great inadequacy, there too often arises a hardening within me, a wall between those in need and myself.
Yet, even while judging myself harshly, I am reminded of recent instances of responding and sharing, often to my own surprise, to both physical and emotional conditions of others. I sense that too often we Friends, as Meetings, tend to respond more readily to distant pleas than to deep needs within our own assemblies. In a recent Meeting for Business here, I mentioned how one of our Ohio Monthly Meetings has a discretionary overseers’ fund for such responses, and the concept drew much interest; afterward, however, one of the members approached me to tell of an instance the week before, when one of the attenders was unable to take an employment test because he lacked the money to buy prescription eyeglasses. I suspect there are a great many similar stories within our midst.
Reflecting on this query, I’m struck by the difference between the rich young man who is told to sell all he has and to give to the poor (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, and Luke 18:18:30), and the right use of resources exemplified by the parable of the good servant (the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30), the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13), or by the costly annointing of Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-11). Self-impoverishment can be as much of a spiritual trap as can wealth itself, and the very acts of “charity” wind up fueling sins of resentment, anger, and guilt. For me, learning to use my meager resources more wisely and see their fruit as blessings both to enjoy and to share seems a healthier response, and more fitting with Gospel.
The key here is that we move prayerfully, as led by the Holy Spirit, rather than by a spirit of moral obligation. As our prayers include thanksgiving and praise, they encourage a spirit of joy and love, leading us to respond to such needs intuitively.
My experience has been that within our community of faith, counsel has been offered lovingly and prayerfully; frequently, crucial support and advice has been offered in ways that leave me wondering whether those who presented them were aware of the seeds they had planted.
When we are firmly rooted in prayer and expectant waiting, we keep the real goal in sight, the deep answer on both the material and emotional levels, as expressed in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46).
Incidentally, how do we respond to this query – and to the Internal Revenue Service – when Jesus Himself tells us to do our acts of charity in such anonymity that even our right hand and left hand are to be ignorant of the others’ actions (Matthew 6:3)?
WILLOW BROOK: We give far less than we should to the causes we support.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.