Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A World Full of Closed Doors?

Guilt. I have a lot of it in my life, but never quite to this degree. I am riddled with guilt over a decision that I made yesterday and it's slowly eating away at me. I need to unload this, somehow. I believe in my heart that I made the right decision. But...still...there's lingering guilt.

Let me set the scene:

I have mentioned before that I work in a small church. And when I say small I mean I am the only staff person besides the pastor(s). Often, I am the only person in the building. We have been the target of many crimes, including break-ins, in the past. The evidence of those break-ins can be seen on busted doorknobs and cabinets to this day. The police have told us, because of our relatively secluded location, we are a prime kidnapping site.

I keep the door locked if I am there by myself and open it only if I know the person on the other side.

That is, until yesterday...

From my office window I can see the parking lot, and around noon I spotted a car pulling up. My first instinct is to run to the door to let whoever it might be in. As the person approached I could see I didn't know him, but for some reason I didn't hesitate to open the door.

He started to plead his case: They were from out of town, had a sick daughter, had an appointment at the clinic later that afternoon, and needed a place to 'hang out' for a while. He said he thought a church might be willing to help them out.

My heart was, of course, breaking a little bit for his poor little girl (who I never saw...I never saw anyone but this lone man) and immediately put myself in their shoes. Asking for help at a church makes sense, right?


I told him that I was there alone (in retrospect I should NOT have said that, I know) and that I just didn't feel comfortable letting them in when I am here by myself. I explained that he looked like a very nice person but we have had a little trouble in the past and I am instructed by our 'church council' to keep the doors locked when I am here by myself. If one of the pastors were there, if anyone else would have been there, I would happily let them in. We do that frequently. (And on a side note: if they had ALL come to the door--his wife and daughter, too--I would have been much more likely to let them in. But I was facing a lone man who was much bigger than me. I didn't know if the others even existed...) I asked them if they could go to the clinic early and hang out in the waiting room? Or go to the mall? I even directed them to another VERY large church just down the road that could probably help them out more. The weather was good, beautiful in I felt like they could probably make it somewhere else close by.

I told him that this was a personal decision on my part and was in no way a reflection of the church. Call it a gut instinct, call it intuition...I just could not bring myself to let them in.

He was mad. And I think he had a right to be on some level. He said he wanted our phone number so he could call and complain about me to the pastors. Sure, I said, Here you go, and handed him the info.

Then, the worst part.

As he was walking away he angrily yelled, "You should really open up your heart a little more."

I felt like someone had just punched me in the gut. I felt nauseous. I questioned my decision. Did I do the right thing? If they were really in desperate and dire need and it was an emergency OF COURSE I would have helped them. But they were not. They needed a place to hang out. There are lots and lots of safe and warm and comfortable places to do that. Why drive to the edge of town to a tiny church up on a hill? It just didn't add up for me. I am not a cynic. I am not paranoid. I do not think people are inherently bad. In fact, I think they are inherently GOOD. But again, common sense told me that I had better be safe--or I might be sorry.

And with Christmas close at hand, the image of Mary and Joseph begging for a place to stay flashed through my mind. There was no room in the inn for them, either.

There's the guilt. Heavy, heavy guilt.

I believe the world would be a better place if strangers helped out strangers. I think there is far too little generosity and love for our neighbors. But in that instant, in that moment... I don't know. I just couldn't do it. It hurts me deeply that we live in a world where sometimes shutting the door is the best decision. I HATE that.

I work in a church, for God's sake. And I couldn't help them for fear of my personal safety. That doesn't sit well with me. At all.

I think I made the CORRECT decision, but was it RIGHT? Was it just?? Was it kind or fair??? I don't know.

Just yesterday I read an article about a man charged with attacking and sexually assaulting a 73 year old woman in a rural church. He just wanted a tour of the church because he said he liked churches. She was just trying to be nice. Who's to say that couldn't very easily happen to me? It could.

I read this article mere minutes after the stranger appeared at the church door. A sign from God? A validation of my decision? I don't know. And it doesn't really matter.

I guess all I can do is pray for that family, that they find healing for their daughter and that they don't find a world full of closed doors.


  1. You ABSOLUTELY did the RIGHT thing. Not even a glimmer of doubt in my mind. There are scenarios where sure, if my safety were somewhat at risk I would still help someone out - but I was way more likely to do that before I became a mom, where now I have that massive responsibility to put her first in my decisions. Maybe he was telling the truth and completely innocent. He probably was, but what if he wasn't? The way it is laid out, it adds up to too much risk to me. I'm about shaking trying to envision that event going the other way - and yes, I'm paranoid, but my gut tells me you did the right thing. Like you said, they weren't in an emergent situation, their safety and survival did not depend on you letting them in the church. But YOUR safety and survival may well have depended on you following your instincts and saying no.

    Let's see if he does indeed call the church to complain - my bet is no.

    Oprah, years ago, had a guy on her show a few times - Gavin somebody, think the book he wrote is called "The Gift of Fear" or something similar. I will NEVER forget his basic message - as women, we have this instinct that tells us when something is off, something is wrong. But as women we also tend to talk ourselves out of listening to it, of doing what we feel we "should" do and to be "nice" rather than listen to that feeling. But we, especially as women, have that instinct for a REASON and we have to listen to it. You did, and I am so glad you did.

    Listen to me when I tell you this - you did NOT make the wrong call here. You did the right thing for you, for Miles, for Grant, for your extended family, for all of us who treasure you. Please don't doubt that, at all. Or I will give you a stern talking to this weekend! (ha) And while you will anyway, please do not feel guilty about this - with ZERO doubt in my mind you made the right decision.

  2. You totally did the right thing. No doubt in my mind...and you shouldn't have any either :). I know this is soooo hard (from personal experience)...but you MUST have boundaries for yourself. Good for you for sticking to them.

  3. Oh, rats, don't you just wish people could see your heart? You did the right thing, absolutely, dear heart. I just wish it felt better. xo

  4. I second all of the above comments... you did the right thing... I just wish you felt better about it.

    And, if I wasn't convinced of that by the time I got to the "you should open your heart more" statement, I was then. Not the response that makes logical sense.

  5. You did the right thing for you. You made a decision with all the information you had in front of you (just him, no family, no real emergency...) and went with your gut. I just told my kids that when I was young, times were SO different. I had no cell phone and was out all day until the street lights came on and was fine and my parents didn't worry. We DO NOT have that lifestyle in our city anymore. It's a different time.
    I get it have an awesome heart, but sometimes you just have to think with your head.


  6. I agree that it is so hard to make those decisions--I want everyone to be truthful and good also and do believe that most people are were alone in a secluded area, he appeared to be alone, and you know nothing about him. You did make the correct and right decision for you and your family.
    It is unfortunate that we have to think that way--put our safety first but there are times when you do need to and you choose the absolute right time to do that.

  7. DITTO! You did the right thing! You were not cold or callous in your response and you gave the man good information to make alternative plans. You are not responsible for his reaction in anger. You should not feel bad about this at all. I do believe the article you read after the man left may well have been a sign because the Maker of coincidences knows your heart and knew you would be troubled by this. Listen to your gut! And stay safe!!

  8. You did the right thing. It bothers me that he got mad about it...maybe his intentions were not what he said. Don't second guess yourself there is a reason why you felt the way you did. It was not an emergency and you gave him other options. I don't know why he would seek out a church to "hang out at" anyway when there are lots of other options. Casing the place? Who knows.

  9. What a tough moment. I know your heart, I've had similar moments. Where I wanted to help or do something but the fear of what could happen in this world today keeps me from it.
    You did the right thing.


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