I'm home sick today, which is a humbling thing. First, because my immune system is not all I was cracking it up to be. Second, because it's a reminder that even though I'm valued, I am not essential to the functioning of the world, or even of my workplaces. I can take a break. And it has been a good day to rest and let my body fight this cold.
So in the general vein of humility, I'd like to tell you a story about a recent time when I got tricked, conned, royally screwed over. In August, when it happened, I thought I'd never tell this story, for fear that it would show me to be far too gullible and naive to live and work in this neighbourhood. Danice knew better; she said it would make a great sermon illustration someday.
It was my day off, and I was riding a new bike to my friends' house on Commercial Drive, when I heard a man calling out in French, asking if anyone spoke French. I thought, "What a coincidence, I speak French." So I stopped to ask him what he needed. He told me that he was from Quebec, but was in town with his wife and child so that his wife could get surgery for breast cancer. He had been charged unexpected extra medical costs because the surgery was out-of-province, and he needed some money to buy some medicine and groceries.
Now, some of you are less gullible than me, and you would have said, "Sorry," and continued on your way. And there was a part of me that doubted his story. But a larger part of me wondered how coincidental it was that I rode along at that exact moment, and that I spoke French - I wondered if it was a divine set-up. And he seemed like a decent guy. So I said that I would help him out, but I needed to get cash from a bank machine.
Here was my first mistake. I had decided how much I would give him, but at the bank machine, he asked for a bit more, explaining that he wanted to pay me back. He was getting money wired to him from his brother in Quebec, but he needed some money to get his provincial health insurance card or driver's license printed, for ID, so he could collect the money in BC. I complied, and gave him the larger amount. Now you're thinking I was really gullible, and it's true. He played on my lack of knowledge about the healthcare system in Quebec, about wiring money, and about what kind of ID is needed. And I thought that it would be far more dignifying to allow him to pay me back, and support his family, instead of being the recipient of my charity.
So we set up a time to meet later that day. When we met, he told me that again, he needed more money - there had been other costs associated with the wiring. He showed me grocery receipts to prove he was spending the money well. At this point, I really wanted my money back, and it seemed there would be no way of getting it unless he could pay the fees associated with getting his ID. So, although alarms were going off in my head, I gave him a bit more.
To cut a long story (and awful day) short, that evening I ended up waiting at a skytrain station in New Westminster, with Danice by my side, with the Quebecois guy's "work keys" in my pocket as "collateral" to prove he would show up after the wire transfer. My hope rode a roller-coaster, swelling, falling, increasing, disappearing. Midnight rolled around, and no one had come to pay me back. I had been conned. I had lost $160, and I had also lost most of my faith in the honesty and goodness of humankind.
After a couple days of punishing myself for my own naivete, I realized I'd learned some stuff. And it was not, as Danice quipped, that "you should never trust a Frenchman."
Here's what I learned/remembered:
- I was not and am not perfect. I screw up, fall down, get back up, and I learn. I've got the "innocent as doves" part down, now I need to work on the "shrewd as snakes" part.
- I did not have to lose hope in all of humanity just because of one guy who conned me. We all lie and cheat at some point in our lives, and we all have our shining moments of generosity and beauty.
- It was ok to feel hurt. I was violated, betrayed, lied to, embarrassed, and put to shame. I was taken advantage of and sinned against.
- I was very grateful for my friends and roommates who cared for me and didn't laugh at me, even though my troubles were the result of my own poor decisions - Danice, who sat with me in my frustration, Chanelle and Julie who bought me ice cream, and Kat, who picked me up from the skytrain late at night.
- God would continue to provide for my needs. (In fact, although I told hardly anyone about this experience, I got unexpected financial gifts over the next couple months that totaled more than double the amount I had lost!)
- My money doesn't belong to me. I am only a steward of it. In being willing to give it away to someone in need, my heart was in the right place. However, I could have stewarded it better.
- The trouble came when it changed from a gift to a loan, when I started expecting the money to be paid back to me.
Let me explain this last point, because it has become very important as I think about my money in the context of my relationships. I think that in some cases, lending can be good and healthy, but only when I've already built a friendship with a person, and when I'm sure that even if they didn't pay me back, our friendship would survive. I've lent small amounts of money to friends, and my willingness to do so has proven my trust in them, and when they repay me, they have the chance to prove themselves as trustworthy. It has often brought my friendships to a new depth, even though there is some risk involved.
But in the vast majority of cases, when I give, I should give freely, not expecting anything back, especially if I don't know the person, and I should not give more than I feel led to give. It is good for people to have the dignity of paying back, but I should not give with this expectation. Jesus says as much: "If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." (Luke 6:34-35).
So apparently my reward will be great! Maybe it already has been great. I am sobered, humbled, and I have learned lots. Who knows, maybe it was a divine set-up all along - it might have been the only way for me to learn. I even feel like I've pretty much forgiven the guy, miraculously... and I've prayed that whatever his troubles, even if it's just the trouble of feeling the need to trick people to sustain himself financially, God will bring him to a place of honesty and relief from his burdens.
But watch out for him, if you're gullible like me. Chanelle has run into him again, around Commercial and 1st. She gave him a good talking to on my behalf. :)