Sunday, April 18, 2021

Buying a Drunk a Drink

I slowly pull up to the gas pump and hop out. Like most Saturday nights in the home of my youth my father is playing a classic movie, something I always enjoy but unfortunately I have to leave because I remember I am out of gas and want to fill up before the Sabbath. The wind is biting, which should surprise no one who spends much time out at night in the winter in Salt Lake City, and I quickly put my credit card in the pump hoping to limit the time that my fingers and every other part of me has to spend outside. A large man who had been chatting with someone on the street corner holding a sign approaches me. “Can you spare some change?”

I reach into my wallet, all I have is a $5 dollar bill. “Here you go.”

He absolutely beams. “Thanks so much man, you’re the best.”

“You're welcome.”

As I put the gas handle back, the man makes a beeline to the store portion of the gas station. I hop in and prepare to drive away. “Hey Dad.” I nearly jump out of my skin.

“What are you doing Hyrum?”

“I don’t know, I knew you were leaving and thought I would hide in the back seat.”

I was suddenly very glad I hadn’t decided to go through a drive through and sneak myself a snack. But once over the shock of not being alone was gone I thought back to my friend with his newly found five dollars. The gas station was all glass so it was easy enough to see inside. So I drive by the front of the store as I leave.

He was at the checkout, buying a large beer and a snack.

“Dad did you just give that man some money to buy a beer?” Hyrum asks.

“Well I...I guess I did.”

That night I reflected on that moment. Something about having my son there made me reflect even more than I might otherwise. The phrase is so common for actions that no one wants to take, “buy a drunk a drink.” That is most likely what I had done. We call it enabling. And throughout my life it has been a common excuse for why I don’t give more often.

And at that moment “buying a drunk a drink” took on a very different meaning for me. How many times had God blessed me abundantly, I chose poorly with those blessings and yet his blessings did not cease? How many times had God allowed me to buy the drink when I should have known better? 

I am not saying enabling is a good thing. But God allows the rain to fall on the just and unjust. He allows us free agency and ability to learn from our errors even at times when we make those same errors over and over again. Justice will come, but I am ever in awe at how much Mercy God pours out on me, even when I so often misuse his gifts. Perhaps if we are to be like him, we at times will do the same.

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