Leaving work one day, I heard a voice call out “Hey Sarahbeth! Can I borrow a dollar?”
I looked up to see a somewhat disheveled man standing in front of me; possibly homeless but hard to tell. At first I was confused how he knew my name, but he probably read it off my custom-printed bag. In that bag was a hefty chunk of cash from my four babysitting jobs that I planned to take directly to the grocery store, in addition to a very expensive Macbook.
The man was only asking for a dollar; not a huge expense on my part. I could and should have given one to him. Yet all I could think was, I can’t let my guard down and risk having my stuff stolen.
I offered him some of my Ramen noodle stash instead, which he politely declined. Getting into my car, I felt like a failure as both a Christian and a human being. I could have done more, and I chastised myself for living in a world where concern for one’s personal safety trumps compassion; where being a single woman alone in a city means automatically fearing any man that approaches, even if his intentions aren’t malicious.
But is it really about safety? Or is there underlying prejudice that prompts us to say “no” when asked to give? Or when we notice people whose lives are radically different from our own?
I don’t always remember to lock my doors when I get in my car, but I lock them when I pass a cluster of teenagers in downtown Denver, always thinking It would be so easy to unlock the passenger door at a stoplight and grab my laptop/purse/whatever. Once, during a discussion group at church, a student was talking about how selfish we can be when there’s an opportunity for outreach: did Jesus not call us to serve others, no matter the personal risk to ourselves? My instinct was to protest, “You don’t understand! You are not a woman who looks ten years younger than she actually is; the world is not as dangerous a place for you, of course it’s easy for you to say that.”
Thankfully I wasn’t the only one thinking this, and the discussion turned into a battle of the sexes: the men kept insisting we (the females) were more concerned about ourselves than others in need, while the women kept insisting that Jesus would never advocate purposefully putting ourselves in danger if we didn’t absolutely have to.
On the drive home I stopped to allow more cars into my lane than usual, as if trying to atone for my selfishness before; once again deceiving myself into looking at salvation as some kind of points-based system. In the end, I am just one person with good intentions who often falls short. I can only do so much. But I feel guilty just the same.