Besides getting to read Little House together, one of the things I enjoy most about Kate’s new 8 p.m. bedtime is that we often end up talking about very serious issues in our half-hour without the little ones. Kate is mature for her age, and incredibly empathetic toward other people. This combination makes her something of an old but naive soul, so when we talked tonight about Saturday’s shopping trip, it quickly got deep and complicated.
We live in an urban neighborhood, and our local grocery store is full of…errr…interesting people. Its nickname is the “Fellini Kroger.” Apparently some Italian director named Fellini was known for his colorful characters, and it’s not a stretch to say that the people at our Kroger would make unique extras in any movie.
When you live quite near the homeless missions, you encounter many people with sad stories. At first, we were shocked and horrified, and we gladly opened our wallets to anyone who asked for a bite to eat or a gallon of gas. But after awhile, the stories began to sound the same. The third or fourth time we heard the exact same story about a flat tire, a wife and kid waiting in the car a few streets away, and the desperate need for $20, we began to be wary. Soon we found out from more experienced neighbors that many of these people had access to food and shelter via the homeless missions, but sadly were addicts who told stories for a few bucks for drugs.
As a Christian, I struggled terribly saying no to people who were so clearly in need. But knowing that our money was very likely going to drugs–when we already pay exorbitant self-employment taxes that contributes to medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and other programs for those who are down and out–woke me up a bit. Our church makes and serves a meal at the Rescue Mission every sixth Saturday, and my eyes were opened further when I would kindly refer hungry people who asked me for money in the Kroger parking lot to the Mission down the street for a hot meal, and they would practically spit in my face and walk away toward someone else in search of cash.
So I struggle with this issue, because I want to err on the side of generosity, but I don’t want to aid and abet a terrible habit. It would be easier to just shop at the “Disney Kroger” a few miles up the road–the one that’s brand new, has everything, and seems to attract only suburban middle-class folks. But I don’t.
And when Kate has her own serious questions about the homeless and the Sheep and the Goats passage in Matthew 25, I realize how utterly inadequate my explanations are. No matter how I rationalize it, it looks bad. It is bad.
I’m not going to shield our kids from drug users who are homeless because of their life choices. It’s good to talk about how bad choices can wreck your life, and we have ample proof all around us. But it’s also hard to tell our kids that we can’t help, because the only kind of help they want is a kind we’re not willing to give.
I always thought that as a parent I could give my kids black and white answers. But darn it if they don’t hone in on the stuff I myself find to be impossibly gray.