Here in Montreal, a city of about 2 million, there are people with cup in hand asking for money in every part of town, male and female, of all ages and races. Many are polite, others can be quite persistent. It’s a growing social problem in many cities.
Passersby often feel conflicted about how to respond, or helpless to make a difference. Should you give them a few dollars out of compassion? What if they spend the money on drugs or alcohol? Aren’t they already receiving government assistance? Why don’t the younger ones get a job? How can we help them in a way that will contribute to genuine progress?
Social research shows that behind those outstretched hands are deeper human needs and issues: homelessness, family violence, mental illness, lack of job skills or literacy, addictions, disabilities, a history of failure, poor role models.
Thinking about this over the years and chatting with those asking for money on the street, I’ve come to feel that the real need is to gain a deeper sense of their worth and value. From my study of Christian Science, I’ve learned that God is the Creator, and has created each of us with a sacred purpose. And because we’re all created in God’s image and likeness (see Gen. 1:26-28), each of us reflects the spiritual qualities and capabilities to carry out this purpose.
The Bible explains: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.... God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (I Cor. 12:4, 6, 7, New Living Translation).
Rather than worrying about whether or not to give to those asking for money (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t), I’ve decided the most important thing is to see them through the eyes of the Creator, God, who is infinite divine Love. I can acknowledge that in God’s sight these individuals are whole and complete, with all their needs tenderly met by the Father-Mother who cares for all of us. And I can recognize each one as wanting a better life and capable of achieving it.
When I do give money, I like to silently affirm that the one divine Mind is guiding the person to use it in the most helpful way. And when I don’t give money, the simple act of offering a kind smile and a warm “hello” breaks down barriers and is often reciprocated.
In the Bible’s book of Acts (Chapter 3), a man with a disability asked the apostles Peter and Paul for money. They didn’t have any to give, and Peter told him so. But they must have perceived something deeper in the man’s request. Perhaps it was a yearning to feel the Christ, an immediate and practical sense of God’s loving presence and care. To me, the two apostles’ spiritual vision helped them see past outer appearances, to the man’s true identity as God’s likeness. This perception of the man’s spiritual nature, complete and fully functioning, actually healed him of his disability. It left him “leaping, and praising God” and presumably ready and eager to carry out his life purpose. Can this kind of spiritual thinking lead to practical change today?
In my former job as a counselor with homeless and troubled women, I found that what best supported their progress was to help them see their spiritual qualities and recover from a sense of hopelessness. As I listened to their stories of lost opportunities, we discovered together that each individual had valuable skills and talents that could be dusted off and brought back into service.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Monitor, had a deep sense of the inherent value and potential of each person, no matter what their outer appearance or life history. She wrote, “Each individual must fill his own niche in time and eternity” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” p. 70).
Rather than feeling guilty, annoyed, or powerless when approached by people on the street asking for money, we can support them in our thoughts and prayers as valued children of God with a sacred purpose. Then we can trust that God is unfolding a plan of good for each one, as an infinitely loving Father-Mother naturally would.