In hindsight, there was no lesson to learn; just a reminder of a problematic query.
That day I was ready to spend time in a volunteer community where the task was to make someone else’s day a little brighter by delivering a hot meal and their requested food bank boxed “pantry items.” Once a month volunteers assemble at the food bank to deliver these items. These volunteers are amazing people, with big hearts and loud laughter. On that day, I was not ready for the literal tense shift that occurred.
A new member joined the volunteers: Stan. He was participating in the event to fulfill a college course requirement. “I pushed this assignment back till the very last minute, because it’s not something I would want to do,” he said. The introduction of Stan’s purpose was presented as casually as you’d pick up your keys when they fall to the ground: minimal thought. However, excessive effort was required of him. There were 30 homes to visit. As we split into smaller groups, my group had an extra member: Stan.
Sometimes it is better not to ask questions that offer surface level content but have deep-level answers.
Throughout the day, deliveries went smoothly. Stan proved to be a helpful team member, but remained quiet between stops. Maybe this experience would instill a desire to do this again? After our last delivery we headed back to the county food bank. The driver, my friend Mike, asked the questions we all wanted to hear: “How was the experience, Stan? Will we see you again?”
Stan shook his head, stared out the window: “Nope. I will donate money, but I won’t show up for this. I remember when people like you came to our apartment and brought my mom food for us. It’s humiliating. I always wondered if people showed up because it was their job, or if they were just doing it to feel like a good person, or maybe a church made them do it.”
Sometimes it is better not to ask questions that offer surface-level content but have deep-level answers. Stan’s words gained emotional traction, and the silence that followed was almost welcomed.
I wondered: Is mission and ministry weighed differently if I donate my time versus money? At a young age, Stan was engaged in exploring the motive behind kindness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3, NIV). Wise counsel. The actions of the day, Stan’s story, and Scripture did not feel reconciled in my heart. Am I serving others with the right intentions and actions? How does my interaction with those I serve honor their value as children of God?
Apparently I was not alone in pondering this problematic query. Mike called and simply asked: “Why do we do it?” Not a surface-content question; and the answer is rooted in the Bible, in a specific request by Jesus to everyone. It speaks to heavenly hospitality. It is a question, a statement we will hear again: “. . . as you did it to one of the least of these . . .” (Matt. 25:40). Still, there are physical and monetary challenges to how we can each help others.
What I perceived as a problematic query is an opportunity to engage in action: it’s not “why” but “how”: How will I serve others with the right intentions and actions? Just like that, our actions shed light on the holiness of helping.