A few months ago, the New York Times published an editorial piece about a lecture Pope Francis had recently given on dealing with panhandlers. In his lecture he discussed a concrete approach to dealing with them, which is this:
"Give them the money. And don’t worry about it."
That's it. So simple. Yet I know for many of us it's not always that easy. Most of us have our own guidelines about the ways in which we give: she’s dressed too nice, this one looks a little too happy to be in need, that one will certainly use it for drugs, I’ll give food but never money, I would rather donate directly to charity, and other variations of these same ideas.
The permission from the Pope feels like something that I have inherently known, on a deep level. Something that exists far beneath the judgement of it all.
About eight years ago, I was balancing my checkbook and I wasn’t very pleased with what I was seeing. It dawned on me that in the previous few months I had not been giving as generously as I usually had. I have always believed in the Law of Circulation – that if I want more abundance in my own life, it is essential for me to give (be it time, money, kindness, love, etc.). So in that moment, I made the decision that I would say yes to any opportunity to give that was presented to me. No questions asked.
On my way to work that day, I stopped to get gas. As I pulled into the gas station, a man who was very large in stature approached me. His eyes were kind, but more notable was the fact that he appeared distressed. He pitched me his story - that he had driven up north to make some money by helping a friend move, but was stood up by the same friend. He was in a hurry to get back home to his son, but had no means to get there.
In spite of the 'generosity pep talk’ I had just given myself that same morning, my initial instinct was to say no. I'm guessing my hesitation came from a place of both fear and doubt. So I was surprised when I heard a quiet voice inside my mind - or perhaps it was my heart - nudge me to say yes instead.
And so I did.
I gave the man $6. He said thank you, and then I watched him pay and begin pumping his gas. I know it shouldn't have mattered, but seeing him use the money in the way he said he would validated my decision to give to him in the first place. As he was pumping, I went inside to pay for my own gas. What happened next I can really only explain as divine intervention. While I was paying, that same quiet voice nudged me again and told me my work was not done. At that point, something larger than me (which I choose to call God) took over and I heard myself ask the cashier for $20 cash back.
I will let it be known that I was not in the habit of giving away $26 all at once to anyone, let alone a panhandler. When I approached him and gave him the remaining money, he nearly burst into tears. I think we were both equally surprised by this act of generosity. He asked me if he could take my address to mail me the money once he could come up with it. I thanked him but told him, with deep conviction, that I knew it would somehow come back to me. I encouraged him to pay it forward when he had the chance. He gave me a big hug and we went on our separate ways.
Later that same day my mom called and asked if my husband and I wanted to go to the casino. This was something adventurous that we had never done and I was inclined to say yes, but I told her that I had given away $26 earlier that day and didn't want to spend the extra money. She said that she would give my husband and me $40 each, no strings attached. We agreed to join and I was already impressed by the immediate return.
It didn't take long for me to lose all $40. But I found my husband tucked deep within the maze of slot machines and was astonished to see that he was winning $642! Being the responsible first-time gambler that he was, he decided to stop while he was ahead. As we were walking over to cash out his ticket (and being the irresponsible first-time gambler that I was) I asked him if I could play one more time using his credit. I promised I wouldn't go below $600. He agreed.
The slot machine was called Beaver Dam and there were beavers carrying logs and dancing to the 80's song ‘Freeze Frame’. I was sold. I put the credit in the machine and without really knowing what I was doing, I started naively hitting the 'max bet' button. At ten dollars a pull (which I later calculated), I was winning $15 here and losing $20 there. I would win $25 and then lose $10. I sort of lost track of what was happening, when all of a sudden, the light on the top of the machine started flashing and the screen showed confetti dropping.
J A C K P O T.
I frantically scanned to find out what this meant. And then…
You've won 52,460 credits.
My husband quickly did the math to convert nickels to dollars…
We both sat there in a stunned silence. The attendant came over and escorted us to the cash out center. When all was said and done, we walked out of the casino that night with $3,260. I'm not sure I had ever held that much cash all at once. I triple checked to ensure we didn't need a bodyguard to walk us to our car. I'm sure they thought we were cute.
Before I go on, I just want to circle back to something for a minute...
I won $2,623. That was exactly one hundred times what I had given the man at the gas station. One hundred times. In the exact same day, I watched $26 multiply into $2,600. All because I had faith in the power of generosity. I have always believed in my heart that my responsibility is to give, no strings attached. I believe it's not my job to worry about how people choose to spend it; if my intention is pure, God or Karma or the Universe (or whatever we choose to call it), will take care of the rest.
Several days later, I shared this story with my grandfather who also happens to be a minister. He pulled out his bible to share this verse with me:
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you." Luke 6:38
There is no denying that this is precisely what occurred. As I gave, so I received.
The chance to give will always be there. This force is constantly at work, providing us with all sorts of opportunities. Patiently waiting for a yes. It is not limited to money. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture. It just matters that we do it. When I see someone in need, instead of viewing them as a burden, I try to see them as God offering me an opportunity. I know without a shadow of doubt that the man I encountered at the gas station was an angel. He was there to offer me a gift.
I am so grateful I decided to say yes.
I hope you will, too.
No strings attached.