This Homeless Man Didn’t Want My Money, He Wanted Something Else

Aside from a perimeter fence, the only thing that separates our rear property line from the parking lot of College Acres Baptist Chuch is a narrow row of trees.

Except for Wednesday night and Sunday morning, the lot stays quiet—and quite peaceful I might add. But not too long ago, it provided the setting for a fateful encounter with a homeless man who taught me one of life’s greatest lessons.

It is a lesson that will serve us in more ways than we could possibly imagine if we simply learn to cultivate it.


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My wife called me at work and I immediately sensed the uneasiness in her voice.

“Matt, there’s a man behind the house. I think he’s sleeping beside the dumpster in the church parking lot.” She didn’t have to say it out loud, but I knew she wanted me to rush home.

“Ok. I’ll be right there,” I said, slightly nervous to confront the situation.

When I arrived, I paused for just a moment, peering through the foliage of the trees. I’ll admit, it was eerie. Not because he was homeless, but because like that couch, this man was discarded.

And not from someone’s living room in an attempt to redecorate, this man was discarded from society.


As I approached him, lying on the old, weather-worn couch, I noticed his bicycle resting against the dumpster. It’s as if he was riding by on his bike, saw this lonely, abandoned couch, torn from years of abuse, and said, “I know how you feel.”

In that moment, maybe this couch was the most relatable thing in his life.

My motions woke him from his sleep and I felt bad for disturbing his peaceful rest. His name was Charlie.

Charlie told me about his accident, the one that left his legs incapacitated and contributed to his current condition. He talked about women and booze and he even showed me his knife that he kept “for safety reasons.”

As the conversation progressed, I didn’t really have any advice to offer and I wasn’t sure what to say. But what I began to understand is that advice is not what he wanted. He just wanted someone to listen. 

For the longest time, I’ve found my identity in providing perspective, or an answer, or an opinion, or a solution. But this day, for a brief period of time, Charlie challenged me in a new way.

He taught me to listen.

I’m learning that sometimes, that’s the most generous thing we can do.

Pregnant with Answers Before We Listened to the Question

There’s a deep need in our culture to start caring for other people—caring enough to listen.

In a modern era that is pregnant with answers, no one seems to have enough compassion to listen to the question in the first place. From FoxNews to CNN, Bill Maher to Bill O’Reilly, one thing remains: no one is quiet for long enough to even hear what the other people are saying.

My time with Charlie begs the question:

What would happen if we shut up long enough and cared deeply enough to actually listen to the other person?

I’m not suggesting that what the other person has to say is always right, or beneficial, or even worth listening too. But I am suggesting is that we, as people, need to care enough to listen to those who cross our path.

Listening is an act of compassion—a practical application of humility—that only requires one thing: hanging up your agenda long enough to hear beyond your prejudices.

My good friend, Tom Morris, told me that we need to cultivate both nobility and humility in our lives. When I asked him what he meant, he said, “Nobility is understanding that we all have a purpose, humility is understanding that everyone else has one as well.”

I thought that was fantastic.

Everyone has a story. The problem is, we’re too busy telling our own. It’s only when we listen that we find a common thread in the stories we encounter.

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with society’s discarded on multiple occasions. Beneath the surface of homelessness and race and gender and social status, our struggles and our fears are all oddly familiar.

Decisions and circumstances may have led us down a dark road, but in the midst of the darkness, we all long for the light of hope to shine on our path.

As Charlie and I concluded our conversation, his eyes softened and his voice followed. As he raised his head, I saw beneath the weathered facade and I heard him say, “Thank you.”

Our brief encounter reminded me to be available, to remove my prejudices, and to listen.

Because that’s what hope is made of.


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About the Author:

Matt Ham is a speaker and author who helps people uncover a whole life. His Amazon Best-Seller, Redefine Rich, takes a fresh look at richness and provides a new perspective on the good life.

Matt, his wife, Liz, and their three sons live in Wilmington, NC.

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4 Responses to This Homeless Man Didn’t Want My Money, He Wanted Something Else

  1. Shawn Washburn July 29, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    Matt, what a great lesson. It’s so true that everyone has a story and yet I often tend to write people’s stories in my mind before I ever get to know them.

    Your story reminds me of when I lived in Cincinnati years ago. One day I went downtown with no agenda other than to just walk around and try my best to act on anything the Lord led me to do (wish it was like that more often). I ended up meeting a man named Wally, sitting on a bench with his two trash bags of possessions. I just sat with him for a while, heard a little of his story and asked if I could buy him lunch. We each grabbed a bag and headed over to Arbys. Left the bags outside, went in and grabbed some food, and then carried the food and his bags back over to his bench. After eating and talking a while longer, I offered him my Bible and he put it in his bag. I left that day realizing how little I really had to offer him other than time and an ear… just like you make so clear with Charlie. I also realized how little I knew about resources that really could help Wally out.

    Thanks for sharing your story. May God continue to work through you in Charlie’s life and others that He places along your path. So appreciate your example and openness.

    • Matt Ham July 29, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

      Shawn what an awesome story. Thanks for sharing that, brother. I wish I was more in-tune with the Spirit’s call. One thing is for sure, it takes us being quiet to listen 😉


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