There are no less than 10 pleas for help falling out of my mailbox – and that’s just today. There were more yesterday, and there will be more tomorrow. I get this type of mail year round, but during the holidays the trees are seriously weeping for their fallen comrades.
So where to start? Feeding the hungry? Sheltering the homeless? Loaning money to struggling entrepreneurs in third-world countries? Finding families for orphans? Providing medicine for the sick? Saving children from sex trafficking? Working as a missionary? Financing wells for clean water? There is so much need.
I absolutely LOVE to give. I guess word travels fast of a soft heart, landing my name on every mailing list imaginable. It used to tear me into pieces when I couldn’t send at least a small amount to everyone who asked. But reality is finally sinking in – not every assignment is my assignment.
As with everything else in life, I need to focus my efforts to avoid getting overwhelmed. Giving, helping, and serving should absolutely be main goals, but stretching myself too thin across the endless chasm of need isn’t going to solve it. It’s just going to break me, and how will I make an impact at all if I’m broken?
A new friend recently hit me with the realization that my love of giving may not be so easily explained as a “soft heart.” Maybe it’s actually an extension of my control freak tendencies. If I’m too busy with the 500 ways I’ve decided to single-handedly save the world, I may miss Jesus calling me to help with the one thing I would best at doing. Or I may get in the way of someone else’s best assignment because I didn’t take the time to see if Jesus had called me before I jumped in to save the day.
But instead of getting so discouraged and overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing, I’m determined to do something. Even if it’s small. Because sometimes the smallest things end up making the biggest impact – and not just for the person I’m helping.
Two stories come to mind. One is a story that I wish I could do over. The other is one I wish I could do again.
I saw her as I was walking up to the Mexican restaurant where I was about to enjoy Happy Hour with my co-workers. She was sitting on the ground, looking completely defeated. I could barely understand her whispers, so I knelt down to her level as she spoke to me about her concerns with the upcoming storm. I looked up and saw the dark clouds gathering, remembering the warning on the news that this particular storm would be dangerous. She said the shelters were full and she had nowhere to go and she didn’t know what to do. Could I help? I quickly told her I didn’t have anywhere she could stay, but I gave her $5 as I walked away. That should fix it, right? She was probably just acting anyway, so she could go buy drugs or alcohol, right? But my lie wouldn’t leave me alone. It wasn’t true that I had nowhere for her to stay. In fact, I had a five bedroom house and the rest of my family was out of town for the weekend. I had plenty of room for her to stay. The truth was I was afraid. I didn’t know this woman – what if she had mental issues that I wasn’t qualified to deal with? What if she robbed me or harmed me?
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ~Matthew 35:41-45
I missed my chance to serve Jesus that day, but I know now exactly what I would do differently. I’m not ready to totally throw caution to the wind and allow complete strangers to sleep in my house. Jesus knows this about me, and He’s willing to baby-step me through it. If I wasn’t ready to offer my home this time, I could have walked with that woman to the hotel right across the street and paid for a room. Every single time storm clouds gather over my head, I need to remind myself to pray for her. To pray for the courage to make the right choice next time, even if it is only a small step in the right direction.
Less than a month later, I was driving down a busy street. The homeless people in this part of town gather at the stoplight every day to ask for money. I don’t carry cash. But that day, I had some. And that day, I rolled down my window. And that day, I met him. He was too thin, too dirty, and obviously tired. But he had the brightest smile on his face. He didn’t even ask before I gave him all the cash in my wallet (which wasn’t much). His eyes were so kind, I felt absolutely no fear this time. He said “Please, can I give you something in return?” I said, “Oh no, I don’t need a thing.” He said, “Please, just accept this gift, ma’am. I make them myself. It’s all I have to give and it would make me so happy if you would take it.” So I let him place his small gift in my hand.
When I opened my fingers I saw Jesus.
It was simply a blue plastic version of my Savior on a cross, tied to a plastic beaded necklace. But in that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was as if Jesus was saying, I see you trying. Don’t be afraid to help the least of these, for I am with them. I immediately hung that cross over my rearview mirror. The homeless man saw me do this, placed his hand over his heart, and mouthed “God Bless You” just as the impatient car horns behind me interrupted the moment.
I looked for him again the next day, this time prepared with a sandwich and a bottle of water, but he was gone. I look for him every time I’m at that stoplight, but he has never crossed my path again. I briefly wondered if he was even real! But that cross necklace is still dangling from my mirror, reminding me to do the little things – whatever it happens to be in that moment. I may have helped that man for just one day, but his impact on me is exponential.
“…Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it…” ~Malachi 3:10
When I feel Jesus telling me to roll down my window, or pay for a hotel room, or work in the food pantry, I will do it. And when the mailbox is overflowing with pleas for help, I will do more than I think I can afford because He will make it possible. I will pray for the pleas that are not my assignment. And when I feel Him nudging me toward the bigger things, I’ll follow His lead. I have no doubt the floodgates of heaven will pour out the blessings, because I have seen it happen every single time – in my soul, in my circumstances, and even in my bank account.
I know your mailbox will be overflowing this holiday season, too. There will be people ringing bells on street corners. There will be food drives, and clothing drives, and toy drives. There is so much need. But when we feel overwhelmed by it all, let’s simply look for Jesus to tell us our true assignments.
And when we see Him, let’s not let fear or excuses get in the way.
Let’s give to Him.
Let’s help Him.
Let’s serve Him.