This past weekend I had to take a road trip to Chicago for the funeral of a dear family friend. It was a six hour drive, and I stayed with my Aunt Louise on her pullout couch. As I got ready for the long drive home afterwards (I no longer fly due to the TSA, you know), my Aunt handed me a brown paper lunch bag in which was nestled a turkey cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, and some cookies. On the outside of the bag she wrote “Love you, Aunt Lou” and I had to smile, as warm memories of my childhood flooded back. It is amazing how the weariness and sadness of the previous two days could be lifted by the simple comfort of a lovingly prepared lunch for the road.
These days, it seems that so many of us have forgotten the importance of the human touch in how we take care of each other. We quickly abdicate the responsibilities of serving our neighbor to a cold, bloated, inefficient, and usually self-serving government. How can this entity possibly understand the needs of those in crisis like those closest to it? It only knows how throw money at a problem; it has no vested interest in actually solving it like those in the midst of all the heartache and frustration. Perhaps this is why the greatest acts of service to the world have been done by private entities without government initiation or intervention. Those that are closest to a need are always better positioned to understand and provide for it more efficiently and with the one thing that the government cannot give: love.
Before my friend went on to be with the Lord, she and her husband had a heart for the families of children with cancer. They too battled their own heartache as their daughter too had to struggle through it. As a result, they decided to help other families by founding the very first Chicagoland Ronald McDonald House, which at the time was only the second one in the world. Working with friends, family, Chicago businessmen, local McDonald franchise owners, the Chicago Bears, and the local Catholic Archbishop (and they were Episcopalian), they turned an old convent into a home away from home for the families of children who were in cancer treatment at local hospitals. Their desire to bring such simple comforts in order to lift the burden of weariness in others led to the eventual world-wide expansion of the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Acts initiated in love just cannot help but multiply upon themselves.
In both the sacred and the secular, human beings have always managed to reach out to express care and concern for each other. The human touch in acts of service not only provides hope and comfort to those in crisis, it also connects us to each other, and even helps heal that which sometimes divides us. The comforter today is often the comforted tomorrow; the burdens we lift for others today often become those which are lifted for us tomorrow. Our lives were intended to encircle one another, with blessings given personally and willingly as gifts, not coldly and impersonally as checks from an unfeeling and fickle government, funded by force by taking it from strangers.
On the long drive back, while munching on my sandwich that was carefully cut into triangle quarters, I wondered if we are going about it the wrong way. Should we really be relying on government to take care of our neighbors instead of doing it ourselves? Something just seems to end up being missing as a result. I think that perhaps it is time for government to get out of the charity business and leave the money in the hands of those who really understand how to do it best: the American people.