Many Questions, Not Many Answers

I spent a tremendous amount of time over the past weekend reflecting on a cluster of issues, among them giving, responsibility, friendship, outreach, expectations, limitations, and caring. All of this heavy thinking began well before Sunday morning, and it was not lost on me that the Gospel I would hear on Sunday would be that of The Good Samaritan. My own personal theology does not include God as a micromanager, setting up situations and things to "teach me a lesson," but I do believe God gives us the grace to make connections and to learn and grow from making those connections.

This thinking has come about stemming from some situations of real or perceived need -- people experiencing crisis in health, relationship, bereavement, some very recent and some from a while back.

Ordinarily, I don't think a whole lot when responding to these situations. I just go with my gut: preparing a meal, providing transportation, listening and processing, including a lonely person in a gathering at home, trying to make a birthday special, finding a spontaneous small gift, visiting the hospital. Different situations call for different responses. I think that God awakens my awareness of a need and what I might do to fill that need, so the question of exactly who my neighbor might be is fortunately not among those I have been pondering for the past several days. I'm still asking the questions, though, and know I will be doing so for some time to come. They are not questions with quick and easy answers.  As often is the case, I'm using my blog as a journal to keep track of the questions as I wrestle with them. Here are some of them:

  • If someone asks me to give and I don't perceive a real need, should I say simply say "not this time," explain my reasons for not seeing the need, or suck it up and give anyway?
  • Sometimes my gift is listening; if the recipient had hoped I would do a couple of loads of laundry, she may be disappointed and think I have let her down. What then?
  • If I am a person in distress, is it right for me to have expectations of others that they will give to me? Or should I be surprised when they do? 
  • What if someone tells me that I have let him down, that I have not given enough to him in his difficult situation? Do I give more, even if I do not feel moved to do so?
  • Are some kinds of giving more appropriate than others?
  • If I organize some sort of a group effort to provide some kind of care, am I making others feel as though they are obliged to help? 
  • What about situations that go on and on and on? Will the recipient feel abandoned when I move on to a more acute need?
  • And, finally, am I overthinking all of this?


pcflamingo said…
I don't think any of us in the blogosphere can say we know you well enough to say whether or not you are "over thinking" something - how arrogant that would be!

*We can't be all things to all people.
*We can't participate in every worthy cause for every worthy person. There are only so many hours in a day, after all.
*I have actually had to say "I am honored that you think I have so much more in me to give, but it just isn't there right now. I wish it was, but it isn't."
*All you can do is the best you can do. Don't beat yourself up.
Lori said…
I think it is ok to ponder it and then move on. We could be spending the rest of our lives pondering and never DO anything.
I do what moves me and stirs something inside.
Robin said…
You sound like a very generous person with your time and talents. There was only one Mother Teresa who gave everything for every body else. There is only one you too. You are inspiring us all to look at ourselves and want to do more.
Lynn Dykstra said…
you have wonderfully written down some of the angst I have been feeling--thank you!
Janet O. said…
You've verbalized things that I have struggled with myself. I have loved this thought that my Father used to quote to me.
“My Life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.”

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Judi said…
My dear Nancy,

Much as I love reading about your friends, family and quilts, it is posts like this that really stay in my mind because they speak to all of us in different ways.

I think we all have to accept that we cannot be everything to everybody, and I have always admired your ability to say up front what you are able to do and what you are not – in a tactful but clear manner.

I don’t think any of us should have “expectations” that others will pitch in to help us. Hope, yes – but not expectations.
I think we have to remember that those we have helped may very well not be in any position to help us in return.

I’m trying to imagine a situation where someone might say that a person hasn’t given enough and they need more. I guess it’s in the nature of things that we all feel we need more, but if you gave “more” to one person wouldn’t you then have to give “less” elsewhere?

We have all been in situations where we need some kind of help. Looking back on those situations, I smile to think that my friends “gave” according to their own personalities. Some gave a hug and emotional support, others found more practical ways to give support. All were welcomed but not expected.

Organising a group effort is so like you, and you would be totally understanding of the commitments of others. We all get the “if you would like to help, do this” kind of message – and we respond in whatever way feels right to us. However we react, being asked gave us the opportunity to make our own choice.

Oh dear, situations that go on and on. Maybe we should hope our friends and family will pitch in to help in a crisis, but it’s then up to us to make our own long-term arrangements as best we can?

If this is overthinking, please keep doing it so that the rest of us can think about it too!
Quiltdivajulie said…
The beauty of your thinking is that is pushes us to consider how we would answer each of the questions . . . remembering that expecting to find "the" answer is a false hope.

Like all decisions, I try to do the best I can with the information I have at the time I must decide. I cannot undo what has come before nor can I predict what lies ahead. I can only do what I am able to do at that specific moment in time.

Bless you, Nancy, for encouraging us to think!
Barbara Anne said…
You mentioned in paragraph 2 what mirrors my own view: that God awakens my awareness of situations in which I should try to be help in some way that matches my abilities, time, talents, and allows for my limitations. Also, that different situations and different people call for appropriate, individual responses.

I believe that it's okay to decline to help if your cannot and that you don't owe anyone a reason for your decision. God will put that person and need on someone else's heart when you are not available.

Be gentle with yourself as you contemplate the difficult questions you've posed. They are good tools for reflection.

Chantal said…
Hello Nancy, the fact that you're pondering such profound notions means you are a very caring person. The fact that you are mentioning it on the web, means you are bothered by a situation. Don't beat yourself up if you cannot stretch more than everyone else. Superwoman or SuperMom is a myth. You listen, you care, you do your share to help and that's all that should be asked of you. When a situation goes on and on, back off. I did. Otherwise, I would have run myself to the ground. And I don't regret it because that person finally turn to someone who could REALLY help her and not just listen. My motto is "Expect nothing; you'll never be disappointed!" I don't expect others to jump on the wagon when I do. But I do talk about the things I want to do just in case someone else would like to do that too. Life is not always easy... don't be to hard on yourself, leave some for the mean people!! LOL
LoieJ said…
This resonates in a concrete way right now for our little town. A month ago, a large building burnt down. It contained two businesses that provided the income for two+ families. And the building contained 8 apartments which housed 8 people who are not people of means, some of whom lived there because they could walk to work, since they couldn't afford a car. These people were, I've been told, "not takers." People have been donating clothing (way too much) and money to a bank account set up for this reason. Today and Friday, there are mega fund raisers in the park. (And it is thundering right now. Yikes.) So here we are, a town of about 500 people, with more in the countryside. Already about $15000 has been donated. I did some behind the scenes organizing to help for today's picnic (free will offering.) I can't physically help. I guess one of the most important things is that we are showing we care about these people In our area, there are many fundraisers for people's needs, for example, over and beyond their medical insurance reimbursements. I would guess that many people are on a tight enough budget that they have to be careful with their giving. We are all each other's neighbor.
Juliann in WA said…
If only more of us would think about giving and helping and then serve in ways that are intentional and reflect our hope to be in community. Great post!
Mrs. Goodneedle said…
I love this post, I appreciate the nudge to think deeper and explore my own actions/intentions/expectations too. I believe that God-given grace to make connections, learn and grow is aimed toward our human-ness... I feel God expects me to act accordingly using my heart and my brain together in each specific instance or circumstance; not that it's ever easy or clear, far from it. It's usually a struggle for me to discern my path or my role, whatever the need. Great post!