I was on my way to pick my kids up from their dad on Sunday night. I left a few minutes early so I could stop at the grocery store on my way for some necessities. It was going to be a “drive by” shopping trip. You know the kind. Get in, get what you need, get out.
I step out of my van and head toward the store. The wind is whipping and the air is biting. When is it ever going to be spring? Hurry, hurry. Bread, milk, eggs, creamer…I recite my list over and over in my mind. I always forget something! Hurry, I only have 15 minutes!
“Excuse me. Excuse me, ma’am.”
Is he talking to me? Please, don’t let it be me. WHAT DO YOU WANT???
I turn my head to the left to see where the voice was coming from.
Sure enough. He was talking to this “ma’am.” Apparently I have a “look.” The look that screams, “Naive Sucker.”
“Would you be able to help me out? I need some money for gas.”
Ugh…I’m in a hurry…It’s almost dark. There’s hardly anyone around. What if he tries to abduct me and kill me? Fear creeps in.
Then, I hear a voice…”You say you want to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Here’s your opportunity to prove it.”
That ever-present voice in my head gets on my nerves sometimes. So, here I go. If he kills me, he kills me.
I tell the man I don’t have much cash as I dig in my wallet. I never carry cash. He tells me his plight.
“I lost my job. I’m on worker’s comp. I’m stuck in a lease for $600 a month. I have 3 kids at home and one here in the back that we weren’t expecting…”
Yes, indeed. There was a precious little blonde headed girl in a carseat in the back of the beat up, rusting Durango. I peeked my head in the window and smiled at her. She smiled and waved back at me. Sweet little girl, just like my Lily or Emma.
The man was very scruffy, in great need of a shave. He had two gold rings coming out of his nose. Several in each eyebrow. I notice his hands were chafed and cracking. He wasn’t much older than me. I began to judge him, putting him in a category of a lower class. Then something began stirring inside of me. I kept listening and studying him. As I listened with my ears, I began to hear with my heart.
“I’m a welder. I loved my job. I love to see a piece of metal turn into something useful because I was able to make it. I haven’t been able to work since my back surgery. The doctors say it’s a miracle that I can even walk at this point.”
As I scavenged for the dollar in my change purse and some quarters I knew that were in there, I began to voice my empathy for him.
“My husband had back surgery. I know that can be hard.”
“I’ve had to get by on workers’ comp too. I know that isn’t easy.”
“My brother-in-law is also a welder. I know that job can be rewarding and it takes a special kind of person to be able to do that job.”
“My family has fallen on hard times too. I know how it is to have a lot more days in the month than money to pay for your bills.”
I only had about $4.00 in my wallet. I gave him what I had.
I kept hearing, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee…”
These words were spoken by Peter in Acts 3. There was a beggar at the temple gate who asked Peter and John for alms. They had no money to give the beggar. What they had was far better. They had Jesus and His healing power, hope for a crippled man.
Feeling strongly in my heart that this man needed more than just gas money, I began telling him about the love of God. How much God loves Him and desires a relationship with him and wants to bless his life. I urged him to give his life to Jesus if he had not done so yet. I said a little prayer for him. He thanked me and I hurried into the store. I left him with $4.00 and some hope. He was gone by the time I came back out.
I tell this story, not to toot my own horn, but to share my own lessons learned.
We all have bad things in our lives. Loss of jobs, health crises, loss of a loved one, divorce, financial problems, addictions, etc. We wonder why God would allow such things to happen. Why do we have to go through bad stuff? Why DO bad things happen to good people?
God does not make bad stuff happen to us. He loves us and wants only the best for us. That’s the kind of Father His is. We live in a fallen world, we make bad decisions, we live among imperfect people. Bad things, unfair things, things that don’t make sense to us are going to happen. For sure. But, God doesn’t let one ounce of our life go to waste. He can use every bit of what we have been through to glorify Him and help others. If we allow Him to…
Because I had been through some “junk,” similar to the man in the parking lot, my heart was able to find a way to empathize with him. Even when my mind and prejudices began their knee-jerk reaction to his “type,” my heart heard his heart and reached out to him. I could relate to him. I was able to show him love.
In the past, I have mumbled a “No, sorry,” and continued on my way. If I had done that on Sunday, I would have missed the opportunity to speak life and hope into this family’s life. If I had never gone through any of the same “junk” as this man, my heart would not have reached out to him and I would have missed an opportunity to give him the most precious handout of all. Jesus.
Do you get what I’m saying? Don’t despise what you’ve been through. Share it and use it to spread a little hope.
Sympathy and empathy are two different things. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone because of what they are going through. You feel sad FOR them. Empathy is knowing what a person is going through and feeling their pain WITH them. It’s very different. Empathy activates true compassion.
A friend going through divorce. “There is hope. Life does not end after a divorce. God has promised to be your husband when you have none. I’ve been there and made it through. You will too.”
A neighbor whose husband has lost his job. “God provided for my family in unbelievable ways. He can do the same for your family, too. He wants to pour out blessings upon you that you can’t contain.”
Who can you empathize with and speak life and hope to today? Open your heart and eyes to the people in your world. Hear their words, hear their heart, feel their pain with them. Don’t be afraid to get in the trenches with your fellow human beings and get your hands dirty. That’s exactly what Jesus did.
You don’t need a degree from a seminary or Bible school to “preach” the gospel. All you need is a heart for others and the willingness to be real with people. The good news of the gospel…what everyone NEEDS more than anything!
One more lesson I learned…or two
I admit. I was a little scared to approach the man in the creepy SUV with the pierced face and scratchy voice. Well, a lot scared, maybe. My active imagination, tendency toward paranoia and perhaps my common sense was screaming “serial killer, rapist, criminal!” But I also felt the tug in my heart, God gently prodding me to action. I didn’t allow fear to control me. Sometimes, we need to “Do it afraid.” I stepped out and obeyed. The Bible says that God values obedience to His voice above anything else we could ever give Him. I’m learning to hear His voice and obey immediately. How many opportunities for ministry have we missed by brushing aside or ignoring His voice or because we are just too afraid?
As a born-again Christian, you have within you, the answer to all the world’s problems. The hope that is in you is the most precious gift you can give. Allow God to use every bit of you and your life for reaching your world.
As a side note…I’m sure my mother will be reading this…The parking lot had plenty of good lighting and there were other people walking into and out of the grocery store. Had I been kidnapped or what have you, someone would have seen and heard. I have quite a boisterous scream. And you know, Mother, I’m packing. 😉 A mother never stops worrying about her kids…even when they’re 35!