The woman came up to me while I was getting out of my car at a gas station. She asked for money for gas, saying she was broke and desperate. I gave her some cash and only later realized that she didn’t have a car.
When I got inside to pay my bill, the clerk, who must have seen the encounter, said, “Lady, I know you have a big heart, but don’t waste your money on people like her. Those people are just street rats.”
I was so shocked by these words that I couldn't reply. I walked back to my car, refusing to think of anyone, especially those in genuine need, as “street rats.” I’m not denying that perhaps this time I was scammed, but there have been plenty of times when the requests for help have been genuine. And in every case, for me the transaction isn’t about money. It’s about recognizing the spiritual nature of each individual as the child of God, cared for and loved.
This prayer is an added “bonus” to whatever funds I provide, because the money is temporary help. The prayer is meant to support that individual’s next step – to recognize that he or she has the love of God, even if it doesn’t seem to be evident right at that moment. And that night my prayer also included a firm denial of any thought that this woman (or anyone) is a “street rat.”
Christ Jesus walked among the rich and the poor, the honest and the dishonest. The Bible provides many examples of his guidance to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus also gave proof of God’s abundant provision, and he made clear that each individual had access to these resources. But he also said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
Even when one can’t give or doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, a simple, silent prayer insisting that each individual is the child of God and is in His tender, loving care, moves things in a better direction. It’s like giving someone a flashlight on a dark night. The love that goes with the thought can illumine that individual’s path forward.
In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, provides a detailed description of who each of us is as the man or woman of God’s creating. She speaks of Jesus’ healing ministry, writing, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (pp. 476-477).
Each of us is actually this perfect child. As I endeavor to behold that “perfect man” in the people I meet, it does as much for me (or more) than it does for them. It brings my heart and thoughts into harmony with God’s immeasurable and unending love. Even when an encounter with someone in need is not pleasant, my prayer in those moments can be transforming for me – and even for them.
Sometime before the encounter I mentioned earlier, and in a different place, a woman asked me for money for food. I spoke to her of God’s love and gave her a few dollars. The friend who was with me asked if I thought her request was genuine. I told her that it didn’t matter; I had told the woman what I knew to be true about her – that God loved her and that having what she needed was simply a sign of this love.
Not long after that, we saw the woman going into an inexpensive restaurant nearby. Whether or not it was the money I gave her that enabled her to get some food, I was grateful that she had what she needed.
In God’s kingdom there are no street rats. There are only the sons and daughters of God.