Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Does love always give out?

I love a good discussion.   An exchange of views with an aftertaste that encourages action.  Ideas that dance around the table; theology and praxis in perfect partnership.

Over coffee today this happened.  Three of us chatted, shared thoughts, questioned ... until the conversation drew to a close with the call back to work.  I now find myself left with the cold remains of a latte, and the need to pursue the thoughts further.  Perhaps this is the place for this?  Maybe you can add something different, something unique to the mix that generates a more complete perspective, resulting in a more Christ-like response.

I could lean on Kolb and take the experience around his cycle to find an answer - but I would rather ask you what you think ... and we will work it out from there.  Much more friendly this way isn't it?

The 'Concrete Experience'?

For the last few weeks, a man has come into our church, before the service, asking for a bag of food.  His appearance is 'tatty' and he is in need of a good wash.  Not much is known about him, although it is clear that he is not new to the area, or, it seems, to the situation he finds himself in.  Each week he is offered coffee whilst a food bag is made up for him.  He drinks the coffee, engages in a small amount of conversation, takes the bag, and leaves.

We are able to make up a food bag for him out of the food that is donated for a charity that has its base in our church.  However, this food is really already accounted for, and ready to give out to other people in the area that are in need.

We are also involved in the Food Bank that is about to open up in the area, so have food being collected for this as well.

The problem is, neither of these charities work by giving people that just walk in food.  They are recommended by and then looked after by various services.

When we give away their food, we are, in effect, stealing from them.  We are robbing from Peter to pay Paul.  This situation may continue.  What should we do?


  • Does supplying this man with a bag of food really meet his needs?
  • Are we helping him to find a more sustainable way to live?
  • Do our actions encourage him to find life to the full in a relationship with Jesus?  Perhaps he already has this?
  • Does providing him with food result in him having money to spend on activities or substances that we may not be in favour of?  Do we have a right to judge this?
  • When we hand out food - is that our 'job done' or is there more to it?
  • What if, by continually giving out food in this way, we find ourselves in a situation in which we are no longer able to supply food to those with an identified genuine need?

Dare I ask it, if we continue to provide a bag of food each week are we showing the love of Jesus or do we risk being taken advantage of?  What if 'the word on the street' is that free food is given out without question and the demand becomes greater than the supply?  What if it doesn't stop with food?

What then should we do with this:

'Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.' (Luke 6:30)

Or this:

'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'  (Matthew 10:16)
What is the relationship between love and wisdom in this situation?

Is love always the trump card?  

What do you think?  


  1. This is such a tough one isn't it? I totally feel for you.

    My own philosophy for this is simple. I would never have it said that anyone who asked me for help didn't receive it. If he is acting dishonestly, or immorally, that's his choice. His freedom. My choice would be that he has asked and therefore he shall receive. I would not want to deprive him if he is genuine need, but I would try to be Christ for him. cf. Matthew 25: 31 ff.). I might ramp up the chat though and see where it goes!

  2. I agree - but I do understand the problem that the food you are giving is actually already accounted for. I think it is the case that some people do not help themselves, although you rather than me can judge much more accurately as to whether that is happening here. I would always get the same person to try and start up enough conversation that a relationship builds up in which they are able to start talking into his life, making practical suggestions and perhaps standing with him on the first few steps. People can be scared to take responsibility for their own lives - and I think part of loving them is showing them how to do that...

  3. I respond with my gut (and even after digesting) feel that if the need for food is his primary requirement, rather than a bag of food then why not offer him a meal, served hot (microwaved), then accompanied with conversation will be more satisfy than a bag of 'ingredients'. If it's hunger that is the need it will be fulfilled (if only for a shorter time) but in serving it can be delivered with love. i.e. does men's group still meet-it could offer companionship whilst the meal is being eaten - someone to listen ? If he is gathering 'stuff' to sell-on then he'll not want to hang around!

    Question for me is should the church aim to be the long term solution - then a bag of food will never do that .If you directed him to the food bank (or similar) would he 'qualify'.
    I don't worry about robbing peter to pay Paul because God will provide to what's needed. People need to feel valued and have self-worth. Most folk do 'something' to earn so what is he did a job in return then it's not charity but a wage. Without a 'cost' there is no sense of gain and yes it will just be taken for granted - then begrudged.

    Random thoughts - best that’s all I can offer at the end of another busy day x

  4. Sitting on the train reading your blog. I'm not a blog reader or even a reader but I really enjoyed reading it. You write very well. People keep saying I should do blogs but I don't know where to start.

    Anyway, I have thought about this idea before and we've done it before many times in different ways at church. Unfortunately or fortunately the church attracts the needy, whether it be in physical need or emotional need. Jesus attracted the needy so maybe we are doing things right. I do think it is important to help people but there should be a point where they need to realise it is a short term solution. I believe in giving people deadlines. We all need boundaries and limits and this applies in this situation too. I think he needs to be made aware that the food is for specific people and that we are depriving them of their needs while catering for his.

    There is a need for level 2 - the next step. Are there any organisations that can support him and equip him to find his own food. Better to teach a man to fish...

    The other issue is who will help him.

    Just a few thoughts. If we carry on doing things right we will get more of this. Are we ready?


  5. After trying to comment the other day and failing at the last hurdle I'm returning and it's interesting to see the additional comments now here.

    We had a very similar discussion at our place last week. We are a Foodbank collection and distribution point and as such often have people coming in needing food. We had two differing points of view about giving out food that has already been allocated. One was 'We give food to whoever comes in asking even if that’s against Foodbank regulations’ and the other was ‘Handouts don’t necessarily help every time and the foodbank clients need to be encouraged to take some responsibility’. Having read this post and agreeing with your other readers I find myself wondering very genuinely what Jesus might do in this situation. How would he give the help that is needed whilst encouraging the person to change their situation?

    I don’t know the answer but it’s still good to ask the questions!


What do you think? I would love to read your thoughts

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