How much should we help those in financial trouble caused by their own bad decisions?
I’ve made some dumb decisions in my life.
Take that couch cover I bought. Granted, I was ashamed of the condition of our used couch. Struggling to make ends meet in our first ministry, we bought a couch from a yard sale, telling ourselves the sun damage on the top didn’t matter; we were doing the best we could.
When we moved to our second ministry however, I was embarrassed to have visiting church members sit on my unraveling couch. To my husband’s raised eyebrows, I paid almost as much for a pretty floral couch cover as we did for the original couch. It took one bedtime snuggle with our girls to realize I had made a dumb mistake.
The cover would never stay in place. Soon I was fussing, “Don’t sit on the couch. You’ll mess up the cover!” as I tucked and smoothed the corners once more. My husband’s eyebrows shot up again. What was the man trying to do? Develop biceps in his forehead? Wait a minute. Aren’t couches supposed to be sat upon? My husband’s comment that the couch would look better without than with it woke me up to a brittle piece of reality. For once, I admitted, he was right.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Fast forward fifteen years. This time, he admitted it was a shared dumbosity. God has been so gracious to us over the years about the used cars we have bought. At one time, we had a Honda Civic for us and a Ford Focus for our daughter. But she was leaving for college and, since we have only one driver in the family, we didn’t need two look alike cars. We longed for a larger car, suitable for traveling, big enough to hold several suitcases and comfortable enough for my husband’s back injury to cope with longer road trips. I have always had a thing about Buicks. My family owned several Buicks and I viewed them as the epitome of affordable luxury, a nice car without the snob appeal of a Cadillac.
We found one, but a family had been in to the used car lot before us and had spoken for it. We wanted that car. We pressured the salesman to push them for a decision. Finally, they backed down and we waltzed out of the dealership fifteen minutes after closing time, car keys clutched in our greedy little hands.
Only a few months later, in our first road trip through the mountains of Pennsylvania, we realized the Buick was not the car of our dreams. I became dreadfully carsick and learned later that Buicks are prone to swaying on curving roads. Both of our seat cushions were worn to a thin layer of foam, and Jack discovered rust on the underbelly. Our desire for a Buick had overran our common sense to check the car over before we purchased it.
Yep. That was dumb.
I’m so glad God hasn’t withheld his blessings from me because of my dumb mistakes. Shortly after the couch cover fiasco, we bought a set of affordable, practical, but lovely living room furniture that still graces our home today. We traded in the bad Buick for a Ford Escape at a great value, and it hasn’t given us a lick of trouble for several years and through an equal number of cross country trips to visit our daughters.
I need to remember that when I see people in need. It’s easy for my heart to grow hard, thinking, “Well, they wouldn’t be in the pickle they’re in if they had managed their money better,” “Why should I help them out with groceries when they just put such a large purchase on their credit card?” or “No wonder they have health problems. Look at how they are abusing their bodies.” Hit the brakes on your Buick, Karen. Who’s the lady with feet trouble because she walked too many miles in shoes not made for long distances? If you think about it, many of the financial and medical obstacles all of us face stem from the unintended consequences of our own bad judgments. We all do it to one degree or another.
On a daily basis, Christ looks beyond my faults and sees my needs. If I’m paying grace forward, I’ll do the same. For just as the grace of Christ wooed me to a wiser way of living, the milk of my human kindness can fortify someone else to courageously turn their life around as well.