I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, from economic to moral, from spiritual to physical. When I was a child, my parents tried to be selective in when and how they would “bail me out” of the consequences of my errors, all with the intent of guiding me to learn from my mistakes.
When I graduated high school, I was able to secure a band scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas, but I had to find funding for the rest of the expenses – from room and board, to books and additional fees. I was able to secure the old “PELL Grant” most years, but had to fill the gap with fairly sizable loans from a private fund for most semesters, and even a Federal Guaranteed Student Loan for a few semesters to make ends meet.
When I finally finished my extended undergraduate time and received my degree, I quickly learned that education loans, whether Government guaranteed, or privately-funded, remain one’s responsibility no matter your economic situation. They just don’t go away. It took several years on the relatively low income of a public school teacher to finally get those debts paid off. I often looked back at my fellow students who chose to work many long hours to pay for their education instead of taking out loans and thinking “that was what I should have done”. But at no point did I ask for or demand anyone else pay off my student loans for me. They were my responsibility.
Since then, I have been in several areas of work and ministry that have truly opened my eyes to how our national mentality has shifted from personal responsibility. Just listen for a minute to many candidates for the 2020 Presidential election who are promising to “wipe out” student debt. We hear cries of those being “crushed” under the weight of 6-figure debt for relief. But we hardly hear a peep about the fact that they all voluntarily entered in to said debt. We don’t see much published about the worthless diplomas being “earned” at such high cost.
But is this really so out-of-character for our culture?
Absolutely not! Every day, it seems we see yet another demand for something to be an entitled “right” – unlimited health care (at no cost to them), handouts, panhandling by people making more than the average employee – it really is startling if you take an honest look. I cannot find the article now, as it’s been several years ago, but a local media outlet did a bit of actual journalism and found a panhandler who admitted to taking in an average of $1,500 per week simply standing on a corner with a sign asking for money. Pretty lucrative when you consider there are no taxes being paid on that!
Have you ever taken someone grocery shopping who came looking for food help, only to get to the store and they don’t want any staples and components that would stretch the dollars available? Frozen meals, name-brand products, etc. And it all has to be “heat-and-eat”.
I must admit that I have become a bit jaded when it comes to people asking for help. If you come to me asking for $10 for gasoline – and you have a lit cigarette in your mouth and a pack of cigs in the car seat – I see gas money being smoked up. If you come asking for diapers or baby food because your kids are hungry – but I see beer cans and lottery tickets on your floorboard – it is you who deprived your child of those needs via your priorities.
A tough lesson in grace…
I say all of this precisely because I have allowed myself to grow jaded, pessimistic even, when it comes to those who come asking for help. How does one balance demonstrating grace while at the same time trying to not enable and encourage abuse and ongoing defective decision making and priorities? Grace.
This is why the church I pastor sponsors what we call a Micro Food Pantry we call “God’s Kitchen”. It is a box set up outside one of our doors that is “self-serve” with the mantra “take what you need, leave what you can”. No questions are asked. No criteria or paperwork necessary. If you take from it, that is between you and God.
At the same time, we really should look at the biblical example. We can rightly look at Jesus command to care for the widows, feed the hungry, give water to those who thirst, clothe the naked, etc., but we must balance that with the Old Testament warning about those who do not work (do not eat!), as well as the “filter” given in the New Testament regarding those like widows who have other means of support (like family). And from a moral persepectiv, if you have the means or are physically able and choose to take take handouts (or even demand them), you are taking resources from those who do not have the means or ability ot help themselves.
When we have means to discern real need – exercise it diligently. When we do not have such ability, then exercise grace. Be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. And remember – it is still about personal accountability. If they take from you but don’t really need it or are abusing it – that will ultimately be between them and the LORD, if you are simply being faithful.
Don’t expect or demand that the government/taxpayers bail you out of holes you dig for yourself. Step up, make sacrifices, and take ownership of your situation. Stop digging holes you can never fill in. Get the help you REALLY need (and it might very well begin not with economic help, but spiritual help!). Find someone to help hold you accountable.
And if you really need help – don’t be afraid to ask for it – but with the request, commit to making the changes necessary to fix the problem at hand by making the changes in priority, habits, patterns, and decision making necessary.