Joe (not his real name) called me last night as Evelyn and I were getting ready for bed. His furnace was malfunctioning, ever so slowly seeping gas fumes into his mobile home. As a result, he could keep his heat on only warm enough to keep his pipes, but not him, from freezing. Besides, it simply wasn’t safe or healthy to stay in a home with gas – even a small quantity – entering the living space. Joe has lived alone for the past several years since his mother died.
“I don’t know that to do,” he said. So we discussed options. He came right out and asked if he could stay with us. “Do you have something like a sofa bed?” he asked. We do. He had called the Red Roof Inn to see if they had a room available, but since he lives from hand to mouth, he really couldn’t afford to stay in a motel. I ran the idea past Evelyn, and we agreed to invite Joe to stay with us for the night. The furnace repair man was going to be able to buy the replacement for the defective part and repair the furnace the next day.
Since overnight street parking is prohibited in our neighborhood, I fetched Joe from his house. Evelyn and I had prepared the sofa bed for him so it was all ready when he arrived. He got into the bed and immediately said, “Oh, this isn’t going to work. The mattress is too soft. It hurts my back and my neck. I’m afraid I could damage the disks if I tried to lie down. I thought this would be a firm mattress like a regular bed.” And so on.
So I thought maybe the cushions from the sofa would be firm enough. I set them end to end on the bed to see if that might work, but he was afraid he’d roll off the cushions onto the floor. Maybe my recliner would work, I offered. It’s more firm than the sofa bed, would provide back and neck support, and he could sleep in a reclined position. He gave that a try, with and without a pillow to support his back, but he was adamant that it still hurt too much. He would never be able to get any sleep.
My last offer was to take him to the Red Roof Inn, which he accepted. I called to make sure they still had a room-for-one available, which they did, so I completed the reservation on the spot. I took him back to his house so he could get his car and have a way home the next morning, led him to the motel, made sure he was checked in, and came home.
When I came back, I was met with a torrent of anger, mostly from daughter Karlyn. There was no reason for my having to pay for a room for Joe, according to her. He should have just sucked it up and made do with the arrangements we had provided for him here in our home. Either that, or he should have gone home and put up with the fumes and cold if what we offered wasn’t good enough. She refused to see the danger and heartlessness of the arguments she was putting forth.
I asked her to follow me to my office where I read Matthew 25.34-40 to her (the passage having to do with kindness shown to others in Christ’s name being kindness shown to Christ himself). I knew it was a wasted effort, because when Karlyn is convinced that Karlyn is right, not even holy writ will move her. Still, I made it clear to her that I was not accountable to her, but to God, and when I feel compelled to show a kindness, I need to follow through.
Neither was Evelyn happy with how things turned out. Her cynicism was clear: “You said he had already called the motel before he came over? I think that’s what he wanted all along and just used not being able to use the sofa bed and recliner as excuses.” Well, who knows for sure? Joe has had physical problems for all the years I’ve known him, including digestive issues as well as his back and neck problems. So his issues with the bed and recliner were consistent with what I already know about him. For me, it was a case of trying the hospitable route first, but then realizing that something else needed to be provided.
Even with the vitriol that Karlyn hurled at me, I was not moved to change my position that what I did was in keeping with how we are to respond to persons in need, according to the Gospel. In fact, her anger and yelling and hatred solidified the rightness of my decision.
My prayer is that we who have so much might continue to offer it to those who have so much less. I especially pray that for Karlyn.