This week I have had two separate instances where something that I expected to have done could not be because of liability concerns.
The first was when I contacted the Salvation Army to come and pick up a mattress we had purchased on Craigslist that ended up not being usable (long story). When the guys came with the truck on Tuesday, they informed me that they couldn’t take it because it was not new, and someone could complain or hold them accountable for getting sick, etc. from contaminants or whatever. On their donation website, they clearly have a category for “mattress”, and now I am wondering how many people are in the habit of giving away their new ones?
The second was yesterday when the Sears delivery guys came with our new gas range. They were quite sweet and carried our old one out to the curb for me, but they informed me that they could not hook my new stove up because the valve in the wall that delivers the gas was too old and they couldn’t vouch for its safety. I think I more fully grasp how really old our stove was: “I have never even seen a valve this old” were his exact words. When Doug came home, we went ahead and hooked it up ourselves and scheduled an appointment with the Gas Company for a replacement in a couple of weeks.
These two isolated exchanges with random deliverymen made me think about how we approach relationships now. Like Sears and the Salvation Army, are we too not heavily guarded and cautious, concerned about what we can and can’t take responsibility for in our relationships with others? A healthy amount of this is what we comfortably refer to as “good” or “appropriate” boundaries, and I am all for that. But I sometimes feel as if the pendulum might be swinging a bit too far in this area, perhaps compensating for how many unhealthy patterns have existed in so many people’s lives before.
For example, I know that for many, the idea of giving money to someone on the street is so much less preferable to giving to a sound organization working with the homeless and hungry. I don’t have any problem with that, but I wonder if our aversion to the first is as much an aversion to entering any sort of relationship with someone who is obviously so desperately needy? The other kind of giving is always a much simpler, cleaner transaction. We are more “effective” by giving institutionally; and it allows for us to keep our hands clean.
And it is not just the unlovely we approach this way. Doug and I have been “needy” in various definitions of that term in the past few years, and we have seen firsthand how that can change how people interact with you. We have seen how for some, there is an intentional drawing near that takes place while for others, there is the attempt to avoid or ignore or deny that something painful or difficult is present. And we have often been surprised by who responds in which way.
Is it not our willingness to be “liable” for each other that determines how we engage our friends, our church, our world? Scripture is full of stories that illustrate God’s call on our life to live with these sorts of “liabilities”. Are we willing to accept what is not shiny and clean in people? Are we willing to take risks in where we go, who we befriend, how we spend our money and time? Or do we hide behind company “policies” that protect and regulate and keep us safe.