[This post is different from anything I've put on this blog so far. It’s pretty serious, without my usual (attempts at) humor. Don’t worry, I’m sure I will be back at it again tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to share something that touched me and opened my eyes this weekend. I hope you feel a little bit of what I felt and that this doesn’t come off as a sentimentalist piece about how deep-down “good” I am—because I’m not. Not at all. Today’s post isn’t about me. It’s about Him.]
I met a man on Sunday. In a completely routine, yet unexpected way, I met a man who opened my eyes and revealed some things in my heart.
I was at church on Sunday. I serve on the media ministry, which means that I show up an hour before the first service and stay past the end of the second service. It was supposed to be my week off, my only one for a while, but through a series of miscommunications and poor planning on the part of a fifteen year old (which, though slightly amusing, is really not the point, so I won’t go into detail), I ended up coming in on my normal schedule—instead of sleeping in and only attending the second service as a congregation member. I was not entirely happy about this when I left my house that morning and I had to give myself a stern talking-to about the fact that I had volunteered to serve the Lord and I should be able to do it cheerfully.
That all flew out the window when I arrived at church to find that the fifteen year old had again failed to communicate with me and had found someone else to do the job I’d gotten up early to do. Which meant that I was now at church unnecessarily for three extra hours. I was pretty grumpy about that. And I wanted to find someone to grump about it with. My mother is always at church at this time of morning, preparing food for the snack bar and running the Sunday School program, so I parked myself next to her and vented while I ate her oatmeal cookies (I was supposedly “helping” her, but we all know the truth). The phone rang in the church office. Since the first service had just started and my mother had her hands full cutting up banana bread, I was it. Figuring it would either be a Sunday School teacher calling to say they were running late or a visitor wanting to know our service times, I answered it.
There was a stretch of silence. For a split second, I considered hanging up. But then he spoke. His voice was weary and raw and I was instantly caught by the depth of his sadness. He told me his name and explained that his life was out of control. He had recently been convicted of a DUI, so he could not drive. His wife was pregnant, but she was also in jail. There was some sort of conflict between them that he couldn’t find the words to explain. He was living in a place that was not safe and he was worried he would get into trouble. He didn’t have any money, because he didn’t get paid until the end of the month. He didn’t think anyone would rent to him with the criminal history or the lack of funds. He was scared. He was lost. And then he said, “I don’t know what to do. I just need some help.”
And then he wept.
And my heart was changed. Here I was, in the midst of a frustrating morning that was not altogether different from my normal Sunday. I had a latte in one hand and a cookie baked by my loving mother in the other hand. And I was grumpy and whiny and complaining? I’m ridiculous. Plain and simple. I had far more in my life in that moment than this man had had for a long time. Suddenly, all of the petty drama, the frustrations, the lack of a few extra hours of sleep, all of my “problems” faded into insignificance in the face of this man’s burden.
While he wept on the phone to a perfect stranger, his pride surrendered and his hopes all-but lost, I felt my eyes welling, too. He was broken, devastated, and hurting. He was walking wounded. And he was the reason Christ came to Earth. He was the reason my church existed. His story was the reason the Lord calls us to compassion and love. Because we have so much. And others do not. Had he made mistakes? I’m sure. Was some of his suffering the result of his sinful choices? Most likely. Did he need my judgment and my righteousness? Absolutely not.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Not only did I feel selfish and worm-like, but I felt incredibly ill-equipped to help him. I kept saying that I was sorry, that I understood… But I had nothing to give. I had no life-experience that could have helped him. I had no resources. I had no words. So I just sat and listened.
Eventually, one of the elders came and took the phone from me. He gave the man the phone numbers of some resources, gave him concrete steps he could take to find help, and offered to go pick him up and bring him to church so he didn’t have to be alone, at least for one day.
I met him a few hours later. I introduced myself as the one who had answered the phone. I felt even more ridiculous in person. Even more inadequate. I made awkward small talk, trying to show the man I care, but that I wasn’t insensitive. We spoke for only a moment and I told him I would pray that he find the help he needed. It was usually an off-hand remark I said when I had nothing else to say (not necessarily a lie, but not something I found myself following through on that often), but I found that I meant it with a greater-than-ever conviction. I touched his arm, unsure how to convey my love, unsure of how to end the conversation. His eyes welled up and impulsively, he hugged me. And my heart was changed again.
Because church is not about me. Sunday morning is not about me. This life is not. about. me. My eyes were opened. My heart was changed. And I’m so glad it was.