I walked past the shivering transient without really seeing her. I barely glanced up as I hurried to get out of the rain. I rushed through the door into the hotel lobby but my steps slowed when I heard a baby cry.
Turning my head, I looked more closely. The woman sat huddled under the overhang. She had a little boy on her lap and a stroller by her side. The stroller was covered with a blanket and plastic bags stuffed with odds and ends overflowed from the basket underneath. She held a cell phone in her hand and stared at the screen, seemingly oblivious to the wailing of her infant.
I watched for a moment and then walked away. I was cold and tired, ready to check in to my room and get some rest after a long day of training. As I handed the hotel clerk my credit card, I argued with myself.
She might be waiting for someone. There are plenty of other people here who could help her. She has a cell phone. If she can afford a cell phone, she can afford a room.
As I finished my transaction and turned to grab my bags, my eyes were drawn back outside. It was dark and I could barely see through the rain, but the screen from her cell phone cast a little bit of light. Her toddler was now running up and down the sidewalk. He splashed through the dark, stomping his feet in the puddles. She didn’t seem to notice him as he played.
She is oblivious to everything around her. She is probably on drugs. If she can afford drugs, she can afford a room.
But no matter how hard I argued against it, my conscience wouldn’t leave me alone. Begrudgingly, I stepped back outside into the cold.
“Do you need a room?” I asked her.
“What?” she seemed startled by my question.
“A room for the night. Do you have somewhere to stay?”
“No. I don’t have nowhere to stay,” she said quietly.
“Then let me buy you a room for tonight,” I said as I helped gather her belongings.
Tears filled her eyes and she followed me back inside, thanking me over and over again.
Several minutes later I was settled in my room. I showered and put on my pajamas. As I brushed my teeth I heard a commotion in the hallway. It was my new friend. She and her children must have been given the room next to mine. I smiled as I heard her shushing her baby. Her toddler chattered non-stop and it sounded like he was jumping on the bed.
Good. They will have a warm, quiet night in here. I’m glad I helped them, I thought as I climbed between my sheets.
I had barely closed my eyes when I was startled by the baby’s cries. The thin walls did little to disguise the sounds coming from the next room. I listened as he gathered intensity, his wails growing louder and louder.
But the mother was too distracted to calm the baby. She was busy welcoming visitors into the room. I heard the door open and close several times. More voices. Laughter. The clinking of beer bottles. I lost count of how many people were now in the room next door. I heard the toddler yelling. The mother yelling back, telling him to shut up. Then someone turned on the music and the party really got going. The bass thumped through my headboard.
The music mixed with the baby’s cries. The toddler started to throw a tantrum. I could feel him kicking the wall. Kick. Kick. Kick. The wall vibrated between us. It seemed I was the only one aware of the children at all. Everyone next door was either drunk or stoned. They laughed and partied and had themselves a grand old time.
I lay in my bed and listened to the chaos I had helped bankroll.
The party ended around 5:30am. I heard the last person leave and the room settled into silence. I think the mother and her children finally fell asleep just as I was getting up to start my day.
I stopped by the front desk on my way out of the hotel and I explained to the morning clerk what had happened. I wanted to be sure no extra charges had been placed on my credit card.
“Oh, this happens all the time,” the clerk said. “She sits outside and waits for someone to buy her a room. Don’t worry, though. She doesn’t ever charge anything extra. You should be fine.”
I didn’t feel reassured. I felt annoyed. She does this all the time? I thought I was helping but in reality I was simply enabling a scam artist.
As I walked out of the hotel, tired from lack of sleep and frustrated by this woman’s selfish actions, I realized something: I was still glad I had paid for her room.
Why do we help others? Why do we give or serve or obey? Should we do these things because the recipient has earned our kindness? Do we search for someone deserving before we give of ourselves?
How do we determine who is deserving in the first place? A checklist? Perhaps we should make sure people measure up to our standards before we give them anything.
No. I don’t think so. I don’t want to quantify my giving in that way. I don’t want to be responsible for judging other hearts. I have a hard enough time keeping my own heart in line.
I am not advocating senseless generosity. I am not saying we should become enablers. We must use our head and our heart when we determine how to best allocate our resources. But I am saying I can’t base my actions on another person’s intentions. I have to do what I believe is right, regardless of the deservedness of the receiver.
After all, are any of us truly deserving?
Christ died for me while I was still a sinner. He did not wait for me to be worthy of his gift. I will never be worthy. He gave his life for me even though I am undeserving.
I want to pour my love into the world freely, just as He did. Yes, I will occasionally get taken advantage of. It seems a small price to pay in exchange for others being able to experience a little bit more of God’s love through the actions of this one sinner.
Maybe when I handed a Starbucks card to the homeless man on the corner, he had a stolen bottle of whiskey hidden in his backpack. So what? He can still enjoy a hot cup of coffee. He can still hear me when I speak the language of kindness. He can still receive love even though none of us deserve it.