Lesson 4 - Judgmentalism: One of our most recent calls was to a woman who was two months behind on rent, with no surplus in her budget. She basically lived from government check to government check. Her savings had just been wiped out the previous month because her car was totaled. As we talked, we found out that the woman had been widowed for close to a decade, and had not held a job since her husband had died.
A number of things stuck out to me. This woman had not sought a job for ten years. I can understand being out of it for a little while, but life necessitates that you move on and find a job. It's unforunate, but it just needs to be done. It's something you have to deal with. Furthermore, to deplete your savings for the convenience of giving your child a car is irresponsible. It's a nice thing to give your child a car, but not at the detriment of losing your home or going hungry. Priorities need to be assessed. Having an 18 year old daughter who you need to drive, not driving? That's a lack of parental training. If the daughter needs to do this for the family, especially considering the mother is bending over backwards to put her out of district, then the daughter had better learn to drive, and the mother had better let her learn so mom can get a job. Finally, letting your child tell you they don't like leftovers or they need take out food is ridiculous. If you only have so much money, your kid had better learn to eat whatever you put on the table. That's just the way it is.
Out of all the lessons I've learned, I feel this is the one that comes up the most. I remember speaking with a lady who came into our church one Sunday, and going over her budget. She had a glaring expense wrapped up in her $800 a month truck payment. When we pushed on that expense to ask about other options, she became very upset and combative. To me, that showed guilt and an unwillingness to humble herself and give up unnecessary material possessions. But soon afterwards, our missions committee met with a pastor of a church plant in a nearby city. When the story of this woman came up, he offered an alternative view. He said that in her culture, many of the churches preach health and wealth. Possessions aren't just material pleasures, but signs of God's blessing and one's spiritual walk. To push on this woman's very nice car was doing so much more than pushing on a material possession and convenience. While we certainly don't agree with the health and wealth gospel, I think it is our duty to try to understand people, and be compassionate. Sometimes you need to drag people kicking and screaming towards the truth, but sometimes you have to begin by meeting people where they're at, not only to gain an opportunity for the truth to be presented, but also for truth to be more readily received. Refusing to help this woman because she had a faulty view may be the best thing to do. It may cause her to reevaluate her perspective, and it may initiate change. However, helping her may do the same thing, and it may do it even better. Helping out initially may open the door for relationship and conversations that stem from love and community. While the Bible does speak of vengeance, justice, and judgment on those who are foolish, these concepts seem to generally be directed towards those who are saturated with the truth (religious leaders) or those who heaped up more grevious sins over generations. The lives that were transformed the most often came as a result of relationship, love, acceptance of all human worth, grace, and mercy. And those actions were often directed towards the miscreants and those with misconceptions - the unrighteous, unenlightened, and unable.
Now in both of these circumstances, we can stand back and criticize the individual's decisions based on standards of efficiency. But to do that is to be a reductionist. We reduce men and women to matter. They are only as wise or good as measured by their effective use of material resources. But men and women are more than that. We are spiritual. We have spiritual longings and needs. We are emotional creatures. We are social and relational creatures. Why is it, then, that we tend to base our allocation of material resources on whether or not someone has handled their material resources well in the past? What if providing materials can help to begin healing them emotionally and spiritually, even if they're terrible at budgeting at the moment? Do we really only pour into people if we know the outcome is sure? We seem to recognize the stupidity of this in evangelism. We know many who hear will not listen, yet we pour ourselves and our time into people, knowing that the Holy Spirit uses that sacrifice of time and energy in some to bring about salvation. Would anyone really say it's a waste to spend time and energy on people who may choose not to appreciate our efforts, or reciprocate? Were we to allocate spiritual resources in the same manner we allocate material resources, we would only pour out grace and mercy on those who were gracious and merciful. Ironically, such a view would end the need for divvying out grace and mercy, since only those who didn't need them would be eligible to receive them. But biblically, grace, mercy, and love precede change, and are in fact often the means whereby God affects change. Somehow, we materialistic Christians tend to get this backwards. We expect change and a probable return on investment before our "sacrifice" is made. But that simply turns the notion of a sacrifice for others into the enslavement of others, as we hold them under the law of works and unreachable expectations. People need grace and mercy first, then we can talk change. What makes our financial resources so much holier than the intangible, spiritual fruits, that we are unwilling to spill them out to hopeless individuals in need - with our only prayer of success being found in God's working through that sacrifice?
In the end, my judgmentalism is the most convicting thing that comes up during these interviews - and it happens every time. I try very hard to take the initial thoughts that bombard me, and evaluate them through the perspective of the individual we are counseling. And though I know that if we decide to take on the financial burden of an individual, chances are that we're going to eat the cost with little to no change within them, I understand that it's not my job to solely look at the material aspect. My job is to see the plight of the broken and downtrodden. My job is to empathize with the sorrow of the afflicted. My job is to show grace and mercy to those in need. My job is to rely on the great counselor and healer to do what he wills in whom he wills. While I want to use the resources God has given me wisely, my job is not to horde resources and bestow them on those whom I deem materially worthy. My job is to give freely as I've been given, to those in need. There is definitely nuance and discernment there, but the older I get, the more I lean towards liberality where genuine need exists.