Last week I had to go to Wal-Mart for a few things. It’s my go-to place when I need all those random items that would otherwise have me driving to four different stores – things like light bulbs, hamster food, socks, and popcorn. As I got out of my car and hit the lock button, an elderly man ambled over and looked inquiringly at my vehicle. His keys were in his hand, and I paused for a moment, unsure of what he was doing. He twirled his handlebar moustache absently and muttered that he was looking for one just like mine, which I assumed meant he was searching for his car. I smiled and replied rather awkwardly, “Well, I just parked this one, so it can’t be yours.”
I was about to walk away and get on with my shopping when it occurred to me that I could take a second to actually help the gentleman find his car. I mean, it wasn’t like I couldn’t relate. How many times have I been in this exact same situation? And I sort of knew what he was looking for – one like mine! I glanced around and at almost the same moment, we both spied a maroon Honda Pilot about three rows over. He looked at me with a big grin and, sort of tipping his head, went on his way. I hadn’t really done much at all, but he seemed appreciative and somehow relieved.
You’d think that would be the end of the story, but when I went inside the store a similar scenario took place. As I stood scanning the racks of canned soup, I noticed an old lady repeatedly going up and down the aisle, clearly looking for something. She was leaning on her cart, quietly talking to herself the whole time. So many thoughts filled my head, and I was torn as to what I should do. I thought about offering to help her, but she never caught my eye so I kept shopping and let the moment pass. Besides, maybe she really didn’t want any help, I told myself, or perhaps she would think I was being intrusive.
But it was a strange moment and a bit surreal. I couldn’t help but feel it was a ‘test’ of some sort. I checked things off my list and found what I was looking for, but seemingly everyone around me was wandering about aimlessly, looking confused. Some of the people didn’t even seem to know what they were looking for. It was a little sad, and for a minute, I was tempted to yell, “Come on people, what are we doing?? Let’s get it together here!” I pushed aside these crazy thoughts and glanced at my watch. If I could just make my way to the front, I mused, I still might be out of here in under an hour.
But that was not to be; I wasn’t getting off that easy. The check-out was a gong show – lots of crying babies and people with language barriers, and only a few lanes were even open. “Why did I pick today to come to Wal-Mart??” I pondered silently. It seemed that the more I wanted things to speed along, the slower they went. This was really trying my patience. Finally, I was back at my vehicle and my bags were unloaded. Just as I was shutting the car door, I looked up to see a face staring at me from the other side of the window. Oh, no – not again. My first instinct was to lock the doors and pretend not to hear. Lord, I don’t have time. I have things to do. I need to get home. I have my own family to take care of. But something about the man’s expression made me open the door. There was something different about him.
As soon as he began to speak, I discovered what it was: he had a speech impediment – either from a disability, or perhaps a brain injury – and seemed a little slow. Either way, he wasn’t your typical guy on the street begging for money. “Can you help me?” he pleaded. “They won’t let me on that bus.” He gestured towards the bus stop at the far end of the parking lot. I could see a bus there, waiting for passengers. “I thought I had enough money,” he explained, “but they said I don’t. Can you help me?” For a split second, I wondered if I was being conned. Was this guy for real? Was it possible that yet another person needed my help today? I’d never met so many needy people! But he was too clean-cut. Something about his glasses and the way he was dressed just made it seem so unlikely. But would the bus driver really not let this poor guy on? Could anyone be so cold and heartless?
Then I realized that the one who was being cold and heartless was me. I couldn’t control what the bus driver did, but I certainly could do something about the situation myself. A voice inside me said: Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.1 I knew in that instant that God was asking me to do something – to help this man who truly needed my help. I was there, in that moment, with the means to correct this situation, but did I have the will to do it? The only thing preventing me was me – my selfishness. I had to get beyond my own desires – my eagerness to get home and get on with ‘my own life’ – to learn a little lesson in love. Okay, God. You’re right – I get it! “How much do you need?” I heard myself say…
Later, when I was back home, I realized that it cost me something to say that – and I don’t mean the $2.00 I handed over. I had to admit that I have a ways to go to truly love and follow Christ. How easy it is to say we are Christians, but when push comes to shove, do we always follow through? Are we willing to slow down, to go out of our way and be inconvenienced in order to help those in need? Christ came to meet me in the Wal-Mart parking lot that day, but was I ready to believe it? Was I willing to see Him in the faces of the aged, the poor, and the downtrodden?
There are lots of people in this world who need help – our help. The funny thing is, in helping others we also help ourselves. For it’s only in giving ourselves away that we truly find ourselves – that we discover who we are and what we’re made of. I went to the store looking for a few things that day, but came away with something much greater – the realization that, contrary to how it may seem, we’re not really all that different. In the end, we’re all just trying to get home.
– Kelley Holy
1 Matthew 25:40