I recently discovered why suspicions are often described as “sneaking.”
It’s because just when you think you’ve evolved to the point in your life where you’re fair-minded and non-judgmental, that old sneaking suspicion comes creeping in.
Such was the case last month when our church, Faith Crossing UMC, joined with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to distribute two cargo truckloads of meat, vegetables, bread, beverages, paper products and other items free to anyone who showed up on a first-come-first-served basis.
The event was set to take place in the church parking lot after the Sunday service, and those of us from the congregation who signed up to volunteer took a moment to settle ourselves into the proper spirit of charitable giving – without pretense and without conditions – as a long line of folks of every shape, age and skin color began showing up an hour before the advertised starting time.
We were thankful for our partnership with the Food Bank and grateful we could play a small role in assisting the less fortunate families living in our community. So, with great anticipation of experiencing the good vibrations that would come from putting a smile on the faces of our neighbors in need, I hurtled into the task with such relish I even forgot to change out of my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.
One of my first assignments was to help a family roll two fully-loaded shopping carts to their van. I had pep in my step as I pushed the bulging carts toward the vehicle and transferred gallons of tea, bags of salad, cartons of lemonade, boxes of cereal and heaps of other stuff into the van – hundreds of dollars worth of groceries, all free of charge.
After the carts were emptied, I turned to hurry back to the distribution area to help the next family in line. Feeling positive and purpose-driven, I gestured to the family and called out in a most joyful tone, “Y’all have a blessed day!” And then I listened for those two magic words, the two words we absolutely insist our children utter when they have benefitted from another person’s generosity and kindness.
I listened harder, even slowing my pace to a crawl just to make sure I didn’t miss it. I listened, and listened some more, afraid I might strain an eardrum. But the only sound I heard was the engine roar of a heavily loaded van peeling out of the church parking lot.
Then – though I’m shamed to admit – I immediately did the very thing I always despise when I see others do it…I copped a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude and lapsed pathetically into a series of sweeping generalizations about “those people” whose taillights were now fading in the distance.
“Oh, boy,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be a long day. The parking lot’s overrun with people lining up to get all this free food and they’re nothing but a bunch of shiftless, selfish, no-account ingrates. Bums and leeches is what they are, without the decency to express a little gratitude! And look at that woman over there wearing all that jewelry. Surely, she can afford to go buy her own food. Why is she even here?!”
I quickly realized my own folly in allowing another one of my pastor’s typical soul-stirring sermons to be blown to smithereens just 30 minutes after hearing it. So, I took a moment to reset my spirit back to a place of giving with no questions asked, expecting nothing in return, and preparing for the possibility of even receiving some kind of punishment for trying to do a good deed.
I knocked around for another 45 minutes or so doing different background jobs such as unloading the trucks, breaking down cardboard boxes and picking up litter. Then my pastor called me over and assigned me the task of taking cups of water out to the people standing in line because the temperature was on the rise.
I went into the fellowship hall to fill up the cups, pack them in a makeshift cardboard tray and headed outside.
While my sunken spirits were still on the mend, I was pleasantly surprised when those receiving the water – to a person – expressed their appreciation for the gesture and made sure they returned their cups back to my cardboard tray to avoid trashing the area. As I made my way along the line, the visitors – some of them using walkers, canes, wheelchairs, respirators and other aids – laughed and chatted with me, some of them refusing the cup of water offered to them so that an older, or perhaps more parched person nearby could partake.
The event went on for about three hours until all the supplies were gone, and more than 350 people participated. Afterwards, I thought about the fact that among both the servers and the served, all of us fall short and our judgmental views – those sneaking suspicions – are better left to a higher authority.
To me, the greatest sacrifice that day was made by the humble, hard-working men from the Food Bank who drove their trucks from Baton Rouge to Walker and stayed until the end, eager to help in any way they could. For them, making sure those in need have food on the table is a daily act.
Also happy to help with the project was my 8-year-old son, who let the adults put him to work throwing boxes away or fetching supplies.
His interest in serving his fellow man was two-fold. First, he was aiming to earn his Duty to God merit badge in his Cub Scout group. Secondly, he’s got a hankering for a gas-power off-road motorcycle so bad it has short-circuited his brain and seeped all the way into his bone marrow.
It could be that he simply has a heart to help those who are less fortunate, but I dunno…I’ve got my suspicions.