When I leave work at night, I expect to meet at least one person looking for money. Most of us are. In a majority of cases we wouldn’t turn down free money, but we except that we will probably have to earn it. I’m not making a blanket statement here. There are some folks who really need help, and therein is my dilemma, especially considering that my Lord told me “give to him who asks of you.” (Matt 5:42) Instead, I do what I did last night. I don’t even know for sure that is what he wanted. Maybe he was genuinely concerned that I needed some help, but when he spoke to me, I brushed him off and kept moving. There was a train conveniently sitting at the station and I hurried to get into it. No matter that it was the wrong train. It got me out of there. I know all the excuses. I have already hinted at one. It is true that many of the people on the street are there because they will not do what it takes to get out. We have programs and shelters all over the area. We shouldn’t be enablers, right? We shouldn’t make the problem worse for everyone, not to mention encouraging them to break the city’s panhandling law. Yet, there are people truly in need, and what of the sanctioned methods for helping them out. There’s usually someone on the corner selling a newspaper written by the homeless. Why don’t I buy the paper, even though I can’t read it and probably wouldn’t want to if I could. Shouldn’t I encourage the work ethic implied? “Give to him who asks of you.” Who am I to judge? Maybe I should just do what Jesus said.
I wrote this on the way to work a few days ago.
You drive me to distraction. There are many ways to get there, and I seem to know them all. I run there to hide from you. There are many places to hide, and any will do. I cannot bear to face you and all that you have to tell me. Monsters from past and present lurk around every corner, but if I ignore them, maybe they will go away. You know them all by name. You and your acquaintances mock me. No one who takes exception to your words is to be taken seriously. The dark and terrible truth must be known. Sometimes you corner me. For the moment I can find no place to hide. Your accusations fly like poisoned arrows, and I can only hide my face in shame. I crawl away, a little closer to the end I long for, finding my way to distraction again. I cannot stand to look at you; you who are nothing more than me.
I face a small dilemma almost every time I board the crowded train for my morning commute to work. Should I take the seat that someone just got out of so I can sit down, or do I literally stand on principle? Given that people have a tendency to form lasting opinions based on a first impression, I have long felt that I have a responsibility to leave the right impression on behalf of all people who are blind. I’ve also got to deal with plain ugly old pride. If someone asks me I will often say, politely I hope, “that’s ok. My legs still work.” I’m not as adamant as I used to be. I confess that if someone actually gets out of their seat, these days I sit in it. Partly this is because my legs don’t work quite like they used to; my knees hurt a little. Partly I’ve just decided it’s not worth making a scene. Finally I probably should admit that plain ugly old selfishness is getting stronger than pride. Sometimes an elderly gentleman rides with me who demands we get seats. He actually needs one. I always feel a little embarrassed. “These seats are reserved for us by law,” he says. That may be true, but now I can’t get on the train without thinking someone is going to get up out of guilt or a sense of obligation. Some would say that’s good. I don’t agree. In the long run it’s counterproductive. These people have been made to feel more uncomfortable around people with handicaps. That is the opposite of what we need. Should they get up for us? Certainly they should be under no obligation to get up for me. My eyes don’t have anything to do with whether or not I can stand.
Recently our church proclaimed a week long fast to pray for a number of things pertaining to our mission for the coming year. Most people aren’t real excited about giving up something, especially eating. I’m no different. In fact, despite the teaching on it and despite the clear example set for us by Jesus himself, I find myself wondering what we accomplish with it. I’ve done it a few times. There was at least one forced fast when I was just a kid and we did it as a family. I certainly didn’t get the point then. I’m not sure any of us really got it. Dad and I at least were up at the stroke of midnight ending the 1 day fast with vanilla wafers and peanut butter. I don’t think I did it again until my pastor and a previous church a few years back asked us to. It was supposed to be 3 days. I made it to the evening of the first day. I can’t say I got much out of that one either. I did it to be obedient to my pastor.
The next time I remember was with the same church at the request of the young adult pastor I was working with. I spent a lot of time praying that day and it was the first time I thought there may have been some value in the exercise. If it is not drawing us to Him then why do it? The discipline it requires of us is certainly a good thing. I could use a bit more of that in my eating habits. My thinking has been that if there is a point it is to re-orient ourselves toward God and away from the desires of our flesh. By that measure I must conclude that I am missing something. Maybe I have not truly gotten my overfed flesh under control. If the idea is to get food out of the way to make more time for God, I didn’t really get there. On a more recent fast I would go walking during lunch time and pray, but I can’t say my prayers were more fervent than before. I was distracted by my surroundings and especially by my hunger. It was the longest I’d ever gone without food and I took a little pride in that, but I can’t say it did much for my relationship with anyone.
Not long after that we did a “Daniel fast.” The Daniel fast is taken from the book of Daniel. When he was captured by the king of Babylon and chosen for service in the king’s court, he and the three chosen with him were provided with the best food the king had to offer. Daniel requested that they be given only vegetables because he did not want to defile himself with the king’s food. Fasting does not seem to be the point here. . Daniel seems to have done this to observe the dietary laws given to Israel by Yahweh. The more likely origin of this practice is in the tenth chapter when Daniel is fasting and praying. We’ve taken that and built a whole set of traditions around what one can and cannot eat during a Daniel fast. The best things I can say about my experience with it are that I lost some wait, and that I followed the leading of my pastor.
This time I didn’t give up food. Since we were given the option, I decided to give up something that I felt would help me rearrange my priorities as God would have them. I like to read. I enjoy a good piece of fiction. I also like reading about topics that interest me. I read a lot of news as well because I feel it my duty to stay informed. None of that is bad unless it begins to be more important than my time spent with God. Whatever I say, my actions reveal my priorities. My thirst for information was getting out of hand. I’d sit down at the computer with my morning coffee and jump right into the news. That time is supposed to be reserved for Bible reading and prayer. So for my “fast” I gave up reading anything but the Bible. That experience reminded me once again that it isn’t enough simply to give up something. If we do not actively seek to replace what we have given up with something better, we’ll replace it with whatever is handy. Satan will make sure that what is handy is not what we most need. I did read more Bible, but not much. There were plenty of other distractions available.
When I started writing this, I wanted to justify myself for not wanting to fast. Instead I have come to the conclusion that I should at least investigate the topic thoroughly and should probably fast more. If Jesus is our example, then it seems I must.
Yesterday, Friday, January 5, 2007, my grandfather went home. We are saddened because we miss him. Death always surprises us even when we know it’s coming. We are happy because an extended period of suffering is now over. A man who had lost the ability to keep track of time can now spend all of his time rejoicing in the presence of God. A man who could barely walk on a good day can now dance for joy. A man who knew constant pain now has the unending pleasure of Heaven. We will weep for the loss of his company, but we will rejoice in his new found freedom. We love you Granddaddy. We’ll see you when we get home.