I had an interesting experience yesterday afternoon, and it ruffled my feathers pretty badly.
A man came to my door and asked me for money for food. I’ve had any number of pathetic sales attempts, I get evangelized with great frequency and my block gets a lot of foot traffic of the more questionable kind (I live on a cross street between two bus lines), but this is the first time anyone has knocked on my door for money. The gentleman who asked for money didn’t hit any of my danger signals… he wasn’t dressed like a gangbanger, he was older, heavy, no tattoos… he even carried a tattered Bible. His body language was very non-threatening.*
Except. A stranger knocked on my door for my money.
Why did it bother me? Strangers accost me for money all the time in parking lots and there I’ve not the luxury of a security door and a dog. But I don’t get rattled, just simultaneously sad and annoyed**. So why did it bother me so much at my door?
Because he stepped past the social norms – even the social norms of beggars – and entered my private space. He sent his gaze into my home. My expectations of being home do not include being the target of panhandling. Even polite panhandling. In my home, I take off my armor. My walls, my door – they are my armor. Emotionally, crossing the property line is an intrusion – you enter my space.
How does this relate to being real? I was raised with the idea that I should be open to help all those around me, the story of the Good Samaritan. Stories of 1930s era housewives known for kindness to the poor… that sort of thing, that’s the person I want to be. Helping is important to me.
But you have to set boundaries. I don’t like pushing people away, especially people in need. I don’t like putting up walls. I like my pleasant version of reality where everyone knows where the lines are, so you don’t need walls. I can’t expect myself to be constantly available – it’s not possible. I have to prioritize, I have to be able to say no. My “yes” is meaningless unless my “no” is meaningful.
It doesn’t feel “Christian”, it doesn’t feel right. My emotions want me to give to all who ask of me, to not turn anyone away. It hurts me when I have to give in to good sense and turn away in the parking lot. Should I have to wall my emotions away in my own home?
I could write a theological argument on both sides of this experience. But I’m listening to the lesson of this season of life – priorities. Boundaries. Changing what I expect of myself – because I can’t expect myself to be the “perfect Christian” – I have to be real in the negative as well as in the positive.
I’ve learned a lot – and not just adding another set of husbandly instructions to my “what to do if” file.
*I gave him a paper bag with cheese, apples, and oddments. My husband was vexed with me, and has told me to make such sit on the sidewalk, should that happen again. I hope it doesn’t!