A year ago, my family and I moved from the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, to the city center of Springfield. With this move across the state, it turns out we didn’t just move into a new neighborhood, but into a whole new set of questions.
Some of these new questions were to be expected: Where’s the nearest grocery store and library? Who should we choose as our doctor or dentist? Which high school does our son go to?
But some of these new questions are specific to living in a city center, questions we didn’t have to ask while living in the suburbs: Should we walk to the closest (locally-owned) store or drive to the better-stocked chain store? How do you hang pictures on a plaster-and-lath wall? Will loud groups of motorcycles cruise back and forth in front of our house every Saturday night? Should we keep parking on the busy street our house is on (asked after our car was totaled while innocently parked right in front of our house)? Should we still park in front of our house (asked after our second car was totaled while innocently parked in front of our house)?
While it has been exhilarating and refreshing to ask new questions that come with living in a city center and living in a 135-year-old home, some of the new questions have been exhilarating and challenging to ponder. Many of these have to do with people knocking on our door to ask for help.
What is our place?
A few people have stopped to ask for directions – nothing too complicated there.
But, more often, when someone comes up onto our porch and knocks on the front door, they are looking for assistance. And that’s what has led to all sorts of new questions that don’t always seem simple or easy to answer.
When Lucy asked us for bus money: How much is bus fare? Is it helpful to give a handout like this or does that create a dignity-depleting dependency? Is Lucy really going to catch a bus? Is it even our place to ask what Lucy would do with the money?
When Harry asked if we had any warm clothes to spare: Do we have any spare clothes to give away that we wouldn’t miss? Should we give away our best (and warmest) clothes first? Should we keep a basket of extra socks and gloves inside our front door so we are more ready to aid?
When Thomas asked if we wanted to buy any of the books or clothing he had found in local dumpsters: Is it legal to take things from a dumpster and sell them? What kinds of germs can be carried on books and clothing? Should we reward Thomas’ initiative or find out first what he plans on doing with the money? Again, is it even our place to ask what he would do with the money?
When Katherine asked if we could help her find a place to stay on a cold night: Where are the local shelters? Are the shelters all safe? Is having her stay at our house a safe option? Are there after-hours numbers we can call to find out more information?
When Katherine came back asking for help a second and third time: Why does Katherine keep leaving the shelters? What are the policies of the local shelters? How can we learn from people who have more experience and wisdom when it comes to these matters?
How are we called?
In our first 12 months of living in the center of our new city, we’ve encountered lots of these new questions. And as our family asks them, we are considering them, in part, as followers of Jesus. We want to be shaped and actively learn from Jesus as our master.
So, for example, when we read that Jesus said to his disciples that they should give to everyone who asks them for something, that matters to us and affects how we engage with all these wonderful, pesky new questions. Jesus may not have specified what to give, but he was clear that we are always to give. And that teaching has been as clarifying as it is challenging.
My wife, Wendy, has been especially faithful in making sure she always gives to the people who knock on our door asking for help, just like Jesus said. Wendy naturally (and wisely) puzzles over what to give (a warm bed or a ride to the shelter, a dollar or a sandwich, a quick answer or a listening ear). But she always, it seems to me, gives something. She always answers the door. She always listens. She always gives something of her time or heart or energy or evening or weekend. She may not always give people what they ask for, but she always gives to them.
And there is a natural humility and beauty to this. It’s like I’m getting to watch someone actively living out Jesus’ words, and seeing the inherent rightness of his counsel. And I get to try and do the same myself – to be shaped by Jesus as I engage in all these new questions.
How can we know him?
In the process, I’d say Wendy and I are becoming wiser: meeting new people, raising our social services IQ, offering help in increasingly more helpful ways. If we decided (based on our own instincts) to not give to people who ask, we wouldn’t have had to ask all these questions and wouldn’t have learned all that we have. But because we are imperfectly trying to obey Jesus, we are trying to give something to everyone who knocks. Which means we’ve had to learn and meet new people and ask questions we’ve never asked before.
I’d say, 12 months in, that Jesus’ teaching about giving isn’t just good news for people who knock on our door, it’s also good news for us. It’s changed us. Grown us. Challenged us. Delighted us.
Give to everyone who asks. It’s just one short teaching. But taking this teaching seriously as we live life here in our new home has proven to Wendy and me just how wise and knowing and brilliant Jesus was. Trying to take just this one teaching more seriously has made such a difference.
It makes a new question rise in my mind: What if I took more of Jesus’ teachings this seriously? What might that do to me, to my household, and to the folks who happen to be in my life?