you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Derek recently wrote about meeting a woman here in Romania who came to our door begging for food and money. As the weeks of our relationship with her passed, she is now coming to our house once each week to help clean to earn money rather than just continue begging for food. She has done a great job. She always looks for more things to clean and constantly asks if I approve of her work. We believe that finding ways to employ people is one of the best ways to help because it's a form of "teaching a man to fish," it encourages personal dignity and responsibility, and doesn't continue a system of begging. And most importantly, it allows us a chance to build a relationship with her as we speak as we clean together and share coffee before she begins working. And yet, it is still so hard.
Recently, this happened with Alexa*. Just as we would expect, her story has grown each time we see her. First she told us that her husband died a few years ago, leaving her with five children. Then she told us that her daughter is sick in the hospital. Then it turns out her daughter has a heart issue and needs a transplant. Then her daughter suddenly fell into a coma, but then she quickly came out of the coma and now needs to travel to a city far away to receive her heart transplant. And recently her other daughter has had some simple bouts of upset stomach. When she comes to clean again on Thursday, I would not be at all surprised to find out that her second daughter's upset stomach has now turned into some massive issue putting her in the hospital, as well. It's just kind of how it goes. And again, this is not our first time hearing "the story."
A few weeks ago after finishing her cleaning job, Alexa said that her daughter needed some things in the hospital. Having just spent time in the hospital with Denton, I know firsthand that the things for which she was asking seemed legitimate, though of course I was still skeptical. She asked for some house shoes, clothes, food, and toilet paper. Each time I gave something to her, she asked for another thing. I wanted to tell her that she had asked for enough and that I couldn't give her anymore today. But then I think the Lord brought to mind a sermon clip I had listened to last year from Kevin Queen and what he learned about being generous at Chipotle. Seriously, you should take 4 minutes to listen to this gifted speaker and his wonderful admission. And I thought, alright, let's give Alexa the guacamole. So I gave her everything she asked for. I got her a pair of Christmas leggings and a tshirt, my own pair of new house shoes I had just bought a few weeks before, a brand new package of toilet paper I had just bought my family, and a bag of food. All of this in addition to the money we gave her to clean our house.
And yet, as she walked away, my heart was warring inside! I didn't feel good. I knew as I stood there that I was getting taken advantage of. And what's more, I knew that by just continuing to give and give and give, I'm not ultimately helping the cycle of poverty that she's been involved in because it's founded on begging, manipulation, and lies. I want to help! And yet everytime we give, there's a part of me feeling guilty, as if I'm not really aiding anyone by continuing to give "handouts." But mostly, I just hate feeling like I'm looking in someone's eyes and getting scammed. And you know what happened two short days later? I was walking in town and saw some other young woman walk past me in those Christmas leggings I had given Alexa. These were VERY distinct leggings that I brought from the States, so there is no way that she just happened to have the same exact pair. I'm fairly certain Alexa sold them. So all doubt was cast out. I was totally scammed.
The very next week I told Alexa I had seen someone wearing those leggings. She looked me in the eye and swore to me that her daughter had them in the hospital. My point wasn't to put her in a corner, and I didn't push her anymore. More than anything, I just wanted to let her know that she wasn't manipulating me. I was choosing to continue the relationship. She cleaned the house well and left with another full bag of food in addition to her wages. But then she came back the very next day, and that's when she told me that her daughter was now in a coma and needed new things! She asked for more clothes, more toilet paper, tampons, and more food. I gave her some more food which included oatmeal. She pulled the oatmeal out of the bag and asked how she was supposed to take that to her daughter since she can't cook it in the hospital. I was taken aback! She was complaining about the food I gave her?!?!?! I told her to cook it at home and take it to her in the hospital. She said she had no way of doing that, so I gave her some of my tupperware. And then she kept pushing for more toilet paper! I had JUST given her an entire package of new toilet paper less than a week before. My own family can't possibly go through a whole package in one week, so one sick girl in the hospital can't possibly do so either! At this point I was getting really irritated, and I told her in my best Romanian, "Daca fata ta e in o coma de fapte, ea nu poate se foloseasca baiea si nu are nevoie hartie igenica." ("If your daughter is actually in a coma, she can't use the bathroom and doesn't need toilet paper.") It's a true statement, and I felt good about it. I felt like I had successfully proven her wrong, caught her in a clear lie, and showed her that she can't take advantage of me. I was annoyed. And so I turned her away with the few things I had given her and felt good that I had done enough.
But then God started working on my heart more and more, and the above verses kept coming back to me. God does not delight in burnt offerings. He is not pleased when people do the minimum to obey the law and do the "right" thing just for the sake of checking boxes and gaining more self-righteousness. Everything I have given to Alexa has been done so with a closed-off heart and with reservation and irritation. And yet I continue to pray for the Lord to give me more opportunity to speak to her about Jesus and show her His love. What a contradiction! Just like Kevin Queen's Chipotle example, Alexa is being scammed of the Gospel just as much as I may be getting scammed with my things. Because the truth is, we have more than enough of our own resources to buy as much food and toilet paper and house shoes as we need. We're truly never going to be bled dry. We have been blessed with so much! And yet, I can leave Alexa with a bad taste in her mouth for the Gospel. It's so easy to recognize when someone else is exasperated with you, and I feel quite sure Alexa has stared at me and seen that irritation in my eyes just as I've seen the lies in hers. Even when I'm doing the right thing on the outside, my heart is crying out to be transformed!
Has she treated me wrongly? I feel quite sure. But God promises that He is the righteous judge who can look in another's heart for me. I don't have to hold her accountable for her sins against me because God will. Have I been scammed and lost resources to her? Almost assuredly. But again, God has blessed us with so much that we don't have to worry about not having things like toilet paper and house shoes. Should we be wise and discerning as we move forward with her? Absolutely! We are supposed to find ways to "teach a man to fish" and help her find a way out of her poverty in a lasting way as much as possible. But that task is impossible for us alone without the Lord changing her and her heart, anyway!
So the question is: How do we use our experiences to have wisdom while not using them to become cynical?
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
- 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
I know that God does not delight in the way that we simply do the minimum of what we're "supposed" to do. I could give Alexa our entire house and everything in it, but if it's done with anything less than a cheerful heart, it is not pleasing to the Lord and is not helpful to Alexa in showing her Christ's love. Because how can I show her love if I don't honestly have love for her in my heart in the first place?
So when she came yesterday, I tried to just see her as a mom. A hurting mom. To look at her like a human being with dignity. I empathized with her and the fear she must be facing with her daughter's serious issues. I prayed for her. I proactively gave her more than she needed to avoid her asking and me being upset. I still also told her "no" on some things. We still will not give her any cash, despite all the things she says she needs it for. We will continue to have to say no and practice discernment. But I want to see her as a person who Jesus loves. Who even in the midst of her brokenness and lying and manipulation, she is a person whom Jesus truly, deeply loves. So I'm trying to see that in her and not worry about all the other things.
To be frank, I don't currently have that love for her. It is still desperately hard for my heart to see her as much more than a big manipulator. Is she probably one? Yes. Is her behavior a learned one from her own upbringing? Probably. But she's also a child of the Living God who longs to have a deep relationship with her. And I can't change her heart. That's not my job. But what about my heart? I know I have a deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus, and I don't want my lack of cheerful generosity to be something that stands in the way. I would much prefer to be scammed than to build a wall between me and Jesus. Or as 2Corinthians tells me, I could even decide in my heart how much I can give and proactively do so in order to be cheerful. I am praying for the Lord to change my heart, while also praying daily for wisdom and guidance in how to help her the right way. But I know that however the Lord leads me to help her, it can't be done as a mere burnt offering if it is to have any good, lasting impression.
So I'm praying for that broken spirit and that contrite heart when working with Alexa, and I would love for you to pray for this for me, too.
*Alexa is not her real name.