Not too long ago, I popped into Whole Foods on the way home from work to pick up a few last minute dinner necessities. My husband was feeling sick with a cold, so he waited in the car.
As I perused the lemon selection, a young Hispanic woman approached me, index card in hand, and asked me for money. The index card said something to the effect of “will you help me feed my kids?” The young woman handed the card to me to read, looking up at me with this sad puppy-dog look in her eyes.
I am immediately torn. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind, the first being our extremely tight budget. We live in D.C. and our mortgage is unbearably high. We are still paying off college debts, and have just a few dollars left at the end of the month for our savings account. Yet we do give regularly to our church, and above and beyond to other established ministries and needs. But here I am, accosted by a woman in the produce section, asking me for some cold green cash, and I hesitate.
Now in theory, this random opportunity for generosity should be a no-brainer. In my “free time” I claim to be the big mission trip goer, non-profit worker, justice-seeking advocate for the poor. Yet on this night I am caught with my guard down. I left my holy hat in the car and stood there, lemons in hand, mouth gaping, looking like a deer in headlights, while this poor woman waits on me to respond to her need.
The truth is, somewhere in my gut I had a strong sense that this woman was running a scam on me. Out of everyone in the store, why did she single me out? Was it a divine intersection or did I have easy target written on my forehead? And why did she come to Whole Foods instead of the more price conscious Giant down the street?
After an uncomfortable silence, I check my wallet and I had nothing. So I told her, “Sorry. No cash.” Her response was, “Well, you could just buy my groceries for me.”
I look around and the place is packed. So I turn to her ask why she was asking me. Her response was indignant, “Are you going to help me or not?”
I chose not. I don’t know why, but I told her I couldn’t help her.
Then she got angry with me. “What, you’re not going to help me feed my children?” she exclaimed.
I ignored her, and moved on to the limes while she moved on to a middle-aged balding man who immediately reported her to the Whole Foods employee stocking the potatoes.
I considered calling my husband who was waiting in the car to ask him what I should do, but he was sick, and he’s really indecisive when he is sick, so I decided not to call him and moved on to the bread aisle with the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:32-46 ringing in my ears.
Not thirty seconds later, my cell phone rings. It’s my husband calling me from the car. “Hey babe, I just wanted to let you know that I am coming into the store with some lady who asked me to buy her some food.”
“No babe she already approached me and I told her no because we can’t afford it,” I replied. He said it couldn’t have been the same lady and that he was already on his way in. We decided to meet back at the car when we were finished and hung up.
I finished my shopping in utter remorse. I am such a bad Christian, a bad wife, a bad servant. Why didn’t I just buy the lady some food? What are the chances that at the exact same moment I am approached by a beggar, my husband is too–and he says yes without hesitation!
After I finished my shopping I moped back to the car where my husband was waiting. He bought his lady $100 worth of veggies and laundry detergent which we probably could’ve got for $50 at the Giant down the street. We compared notes and it definitely wasn’t the same woman; two different women, working the Whole Foods the same night last, one inside and one out in the parking lot.
Was it a scam? What it sincere? Who did the right thing? Me and my cynical gut or my generous husband? Will we ever know? Why am I laden with guilt? I swear I felt like the woman who approached me was pulling a fast one. I mean, who does that? Coming up to shoppers and begging while you are trying to take care of your own family on your own budget? I know how awful this sounds, but I really felt like she was scamming me.
All the while, my sweet, dear, humble, giving, Christian husband was already on his way in to buy groceries for the woman in the lot.
What would you have done? Would you chastise me for being a hypocrite, encourage me for humbly admitting my sins in a public forum or high five me for listening to my gut?
Just some food for thought.