I’m a person who likes to “get involved.” At various times this tendency of mine is endearing, obnoxious, noble, inappropriate and disarming. Trouble is, after all of these years of meddling in the spiritual well-being of others, I still can’t tell the difference. A friend once told me, “You jump right into the pool without looking to see if there’s water in it.” It’s true: I offer words of encouragement to people I barely know, asking deeply personal questions if I get an opening, and I think it’s sometimes easier to comfort a near-stranger than to figure out what the people closest to me really need. The people close to me fall into two categories, they either really open up or have learned to edit to avoid my commentary, the way people do to survive together. This is an admission I’m uneasy with and wonder if I’m building my character upon a rickety scaffold of good, but misguided intentions. The acronym MYOB is meant for me.
When my family and I camped last weekend, I noticed that a group of eight people in the site next to us had no fire going. They were young, with children and babies, and spoke mostly Spanish. My husband had purchased two bundles of firewood from the camp host, more than we needed for two nights. I looked over at our neighbors and whispered to my husband, “Maybe we should give them some of our wood, they might need it.” Todd looked back at me, the way only a life-partner can, with love and conviction and said, “Look at their $40,000 trucks, you shouldn’t assume they need help.” He was right, of course. (Never mind that my poor husband is driving a 1994 Nissan Pathfinder with 241,000 miles that spews dog fur from the air vents when it starts up).
A little while later, the guys in the group got axes out of their trucks and started hacking away at a nearby tree stump. They’d whoop and cheer whenever one of them freed a log-sized splinter from the massive stump. “Yeah, man, that’s what I’m talking about!” Chop! Chop! Chop! The noise was relentless and my charitable spirit vaporized. I began to think the backpacking idea with solitude and no neighbors was a good one but would never in a hundred years admit it to my family. “Okay, how’s this?” I said to Todd, “I say to these guys: You can have our firewood if you stop the flippin’ noise.”
Just then, four kids on bicycles sprinted by in the twilight. One yelled to another, “Do you see any more?” as he picked up some sticks on the ground. They were looking for kindling for a fire. “Hey,” I yelled, “you guys looking for firewood?” I loaded our extra bundle into the arms of the oldest boy as Todd smiled. I had gotten to do my meddling, motivated by whatever it is that drives me to want to fix and contribute.
I will never have enough self-distance to know why I jump in and am attracted by an unmet need, real or perceived, appreciated or rejected, so I will keep doing my God-wired thing even as He shakes his head and laughs at how off the mark I often am. Yep, I will continue to ask the pregnant clerk how far along she is, I will persist in offering help even when people wave me off and I will try to forgive myself when I offer advice or an opinion that someone didn’t ask for. The price of meddling is that I will sometimes step in it. And that it’s occasionally out-of-line, or worse self-motivated instead of selfless.
But I will continue to poke my nose in because I’m incapable of doing otherwise. That much, I’ve finally learned.