The church’s sign sits in a prominent location near the road where all those who drive by can easily read the message. The message this month reads, “We love hurting people.” What a wonderful message to send. If you are hurting, you will find love here. However, a different thought comes to mind. Some may read it as, “We hurt people, and we love that we do.” As I pondered this thought I began to realize the sign speaks truth.

Most of us do love those who are hurting. We genuinely want to help. We want to help those in poverty, in addiction, in the cycle – we love people who are hurting. On the other hand, our ideas and methods of helping is often not as helpful as we may have previously believed. Do we stop to consider the deeper questions? Will my $5 help this panhandler eat and be healthy, or will he be hungry again in a few hours? What if others are giving him money also? What will he do with the money? Will he use it for food or something else?

Will my paying for a hotel for the night benefit this person or will it create an unhealthy dependence? The hard truth is if I look at how I have “helped” people in the past, I realize I often did more harm than good. I didn’t ask good open-ended questions, I merely listened to the rehearsed story. I didn’t ask the tough but important questions about family, about previous employment, about friends, I merely listened to a rehearsed story and gave some money to “help” the individual and sometimes to appease my own ego.

Every time I give the money or pay for the hotel or simply buy the food without asking questions, I have fed into the problem. I have told this person they aren’t really worth my time, my effort, my relationship. Instead, I give money and I feel better because in the moment they feel better. Then I leave and do not think of the person or the consequences of my own actions and how it affected them. What if our handouts and providing hotel stay was causing a son or daughter to not reconnect with a mother or father who loved them? What if I’m enabling and not helping? What if my money was used to buy the “bad” drug from which they do not recover? Do I stop and think of that? Do you think of that? What if my refusal to hold a person (yes even a stranger) to some sort of accountability fed into a sense of worthlessness? When you and I just give a handout and do not ask for some sort of exchange, we tell an individual they have nothing to offer. They are worth only a handout. They are not worth believing in. Just writing those words sting! I love people. I want to help them, but I must be honest with myself. At times, I have not helped at all. Sure, I fed a meal; I gave a coat on a cold, winter’s day – but I didn’t really help the person. I didn’t ask questions? I didn’t build a bond. I didn’t provide an opportunity for them to earn their coat and they are left feeling as though they have nothing to offer.

Yes, the sign is correct, “We love hurting people.”