To the man alongside the road who was thumbing for a ride, I’m sorry. You looked so aggravated and tired. I don’t know where you were headed or what distance you needed to walk, but I felt badly. I saw your face as I drove by, and I saw the frustration in your eyes. I wondered if someone had deserted you, if your car had broken down elsewhere, or if you were simply out of money without a friend to call. And I’m sure that as I passed you, it looked as though I was ignoring your plight. But I wasn’t.
I’m sorry that we live in a world where it’s unsafe for a young woman (let alone anyone, really) to pick up a stranger. I’m sorry that things have gotten so bad that the worst must be assumed, lest we endanger ourselves. I’m sorry that innocent people – perhaps like yourself – go seemingly ignored because those who pass are simply trying to be safe. I wish I could have helped you.
Sometimes there are safe ways to help others in need, whether it’s passing a water bottle to them on a street corner, giving someone a few dollars for gas so they’re not left stranded in the parking lot, or giving another a blanket to keep warm during the night. But sometimes there just isn’t a safe way to approach those whose intentions may or may not be pure. And unfortunately, it’s unwise to ignore safety and wisdom. I wish I could help every person I see who’s holding a homemade cardboard sign, walking along the highway or fixing a flat tire. But it’s just not always possible or rational. And that fact stinks.
I also have to recognize the fact that what is unsafe for me, as a single woman, may not be as unsafe for someone else – a man, for example. And while it does little to boost my ego when considering this, it’s the truth. But my greatest struggle is feeling guilt. Feeling as though I let my neighbor down as I did indeed pass his frustrated gaze on the shoulder of the highway. As much as I knew it was wise for me to keep driving, I felt helpless and guilty for not stopping. I chose, instead, to pray that the appropriate person would come along and be able to help him.
Sometimes that’s the only thing I can do to help – pray. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for that. It’s not my fault we live in a fallen world and I can’t trust the appearance of someone in need. It’s not my fault that avoiding certain situations is actually the wise thing to do. The world is so messed up, I can’t always help, and there is, more often than not, nothing I can do about it.
What I can do is continue to pray as I have in the past. It’s not the easy way out – it’s sometimes simply the safest route – and who can deny the effectiveness of prayer? I can also recognize the situations where I can do something – perhaps the situation comes up in a public and safe area, or I can find out for sure that my money really will go towards needed food. Perhaps we even have a mutual friend who can assure me it’s a safe situation in which to lend a hand.
There are countless opportunities to help others in need – whether they’re neighbors, friends or within the church family. Whether they’re in our own town, overseas, or a few states away. And we should always help where we can, when it’s in line with wisdom and appropriateness. But there will always be times when we can do nothing. But guilt shouldn’t be an option. Prayer should. And thankfulness for God-given sense to make those hard decisions.