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 fact...so 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.