I just returned from a week in Florida, where I experienced reinforcement in Biblical principles I am learning regarding helping people in need.
Our family noticed a homeless woman setting up “camp” on the beach we were enjoying. Camp consisted of a number of cardboard boxes, a few beach towels and two well-worn beach umbrellas.
My wife, Cheryle, who has an extra measure of the “gift of mercy,” was not content with just ignoring the woman or even stopping by to hand her a bottle of water or bag of snacks as others were doing. While we never witnessed anyone being unkind to this woman, we also never noticed anyone talking to her for any length of time — until Cheryle.
My wife spent nearly an hour with “Ellie,” who admittedly was mentally ill. She was somewhat rational about many pertinent things such as where she was, how she got there and why she had no place to stay. Her irrationality showed up in her long and sordid history which included having married a man who had been dead for more than 100 years.
I stayed nearby, just enjoying witnessing my wife give Ellie the most treasured gift of all — a listening and nonjudgmental ear.
Ellie never asked us for anything.
Finally, after listening patiently, Cheryle made numerous suggestions until exhausting all avenues of options to try and help Ellie. I then asked Ellie, “What do you need right now?” Ellie responded that she really didn’t need anything, but she would prefer water from IHOP due to the fact (in her mind) that bottled water, even the Evian that people were giving her, was causing her to itch and the IHOP water wasn’t “tainted.” If we would be so kind she would also enjoy a cheeseburger from IHOP as well, but other than that she really had everything she needed.
Everything she needed? What about a bed, a roof over her head or even a pillow? How about medication for the mental illness she divulged to us or better clothes? Not to mention gainful employment, family and friends or any of the many other normal things we enjoy in life?
I have found it is futile to try and “fix” someone who has no need for my preconceived idea of what they should need.
Jesus consistently taught this principle in His ministry here on Earth. It used to confuse and even frustrate me that Jesus always asked someone what they wanted Him to do for them. It seems to me that a blind man would want his sight, a lame man to walk and a mentally ill person wholeness, but Jesus always asked anyway.
I mean no disrespect when I say this, but Jesus shows us that you “can’t fix stupid.” You surely are familiar with the origin of that line from a redneck comedian’s famous joke: If you have a choice between marrying ugly or stupid — choose ugly because you can’t fix stupid.
Jesus shows us this principle most clearly at the healing that took place at the Pool of Bethesda. The famous story found in John 5 has Jesus entering the area where we understand that potentially several hundred ill and invalid people would gather near the pool waiting for the water to move. The superstition had it that when the water moved (probably a hot springs type effect we are familiar with) an angel was stirring, and if you could enter the water during the event, you miraculously would be healed.
Jesus seems to be oblivious to everyone else at the pool and zeros in on the man in the story, eventually asking him if he wants to be healed. The man is lame, lying next to the healing pool, and Jesus wants to know if he wants to be healed — yes, Jesus wants to know if he wants to be healed.
Too often, those of us in the business of “fixing” people have decided for ourselves just what our clients need. I am in the business of experiencing and sharing wholesale life change through a relationship with Jesus Christ, but I often find that I am interacting with people who just want their light bill paid or next month’s rent or … their next fix.
This idea of always asking people what they see as their most important need is great wisdom and a guiding principle for helping people in need. Love INC ends its intake with a similar question: “What is your most pressing need?”
Love INC has learned the wisdom of Jesus in helping people in need.
Asking people what they want done for them is how Jesus interacted and still interacts with people in need.
So … what do you want Jesus to do for you?
Leonard Browning is the pastor at The Journey at First Baptist Church in Craig.