When the Help Stops the Help

When the pandemic hit in full force, afflicting people’s help, crippling businesses, and causing uncertainty about the days ahead, the government stepped in several times and provided financial assistance. The stimulus bill put money into bank accounts, helped pay the bills and the landlord. And then there was the financial help for businesses that kept the doors open.

And now the help may have had a boomerang effect. Unemployment checks of $600 don’t run out until September, but businesses are in need of employees now. I viewed a national news report tonight about businesses that are now able to reopen their doors, increase their hours and services, but unable to find people willing to be hired. Several voiced their opinion on what the problem is: The amount of the unemployment checks make work less necessary.

I can understand that. And yet, I’m uneasy as I think about it. Even though the assistance came from the government is there an understanding…a responsibility…to reciprocate when the need arises? Maybe that sounds strange or even optimistically naive. Perhaps it’s even rooted in my Christian values and how my parents raised me, the idea that because I’ve received I give back.

My son, who’s a restaurant chef, talks about how hard it was to let most of his staff go last April when dining was halted. With a staff that was less than twenty percent of what they had been at his restaurant survived, although it was touch-and-go. Now the struggles are because he can’t find help and is working himself to the bone. Another restaurant owner talked about the fact that his establishment has had to reduce hours and is only open four days a week.

So what happens in September when the unemployment checks run out but the summer rush for many businesses is already over? That’s four months away, you know, like in another lifetime. In the mean time, the uncertainty of businesses’ futures is causing a lot of owners and current employees uneasiness. Weird, because of the fact that their anxiety is due to whether they can provide the kind of services that people have come to expect when they want to receive it.

In a convoluted sort of way, it revolves around the idea of caring for one another. When one of the links in the chain folds its hands the chain of concern, care, and even sense of community is broken.

By now some of you are either with me or are beginning to think I’m deranged. I admit that I have been influenced and drawn to the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 where Paul writes about a group of churches, who even though they were themselves in need took care of others in other places in need. The first four verses say:

“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able,and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,  they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (NIV translation)

I realize we are a culture of self-absorbed individuals ready to receive what we may not have earned, but in my prayers I hope for the hearts of the helped to be turned toward the helpless– those who a few months ago were writing their paychecks.

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