Something happened the other day that made me wonder if I take advantage of the opportunities God gives me to live a more expressive life for him.
The day did not begin well. The sun obviously was trying to make a point, because it must have risen half an hour too soon. Maybe it wanted to knock off early that evening. Whatever, I woke up with a sore throat and a generally bleak disposition. Life was definitely not the bed of roses it should be. The kids were feeling the effects, too, because getting them out of bed was no walk in the park. Someone had replaced my normally charming little girl with a creature that Tolkien would dream up when he was writing the particularly scary passages of The Two Towers. Only with more teeth.
I had about a chapter and a half of Theology to get through that morning. No quiet time with the Bible and me and God today! After shoving the kids out the car door at school, I headed to the study room at the library. When I no longer cared if it was “transcendence” or “immanence,” I closed the book, grabbed my gym bag and headed off for my favorite part of the day: the workout. I didn’t have to read, write, or do arithmetic, just pedal.
Lady Gaga was on the radio on my way to the gym. She was on the edge of glory. Again. Upstairs, I found my favorite exercise bike open. Seven miles later in the same spot, I hit the showers and dried off. Back to the books. As I was leaving, there were several blue uniforms at the front door to the workout facility. Then I noticed the blue lights flashing outside. Hmm. There isn’t usually a fire truck parked in the lot here. The emergency medical people were gathered around someone on the couch by the front door. I couldn’t see who, and I began to experience empathy for the person’s embarrassment that must come from being the center of attention in such a public place. Don’t look. Keep your head down. Nothing to do with you.
Ah, who am I kidding? Just take a quick glance as you’re exiting the door. It’s understandable curiosity.
At once, my eyes locked with an elderly woman seated on the couch, surrounded by cops and firemen. She was wearing a skirt and T-shirt. Not workout attire nor at all adequate for the chilly weather outside. What struck me the most, though, was the utter lost expression in those eyes. Where am I? Why am I here?
I don’t think I lost any momentum, though, and it took me right through the door and out to the parking lot. That look. That look chilled me more than the frigid air outside. I paused by the driver’s side door of my car and closed my eyes, gym bag with the heavy wet towel inside hanging limply from my shoulder. “God, let that woman be O.K., and if it’s possible, let her feel your presence and comfort,” I prayed.
I got in my car and negotiated past the emergency vehicles and started down the driveway. realized that I actually felt good for the first time today.
Aha. You know that feeling? Webmd.com has this to say about “aha moments:”
“For thousands of years people have said that insight feels different from more straightforward problem solving,” says researcher Mark Jung-Beeman, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill. in a news release. (His study) “is the first research showing that distinct computational and neural mechanisms lead to these breakthrough moments.”
The “aha” wasn’t because I felt better after I prayed. I’ve known that happens for many, many years. The “aha” moment wasn’t because I said a prayer for someone else and for a few seconds wasn’t thinking about myself.
Here was the Aha: What an opportunity I just missed! And if someone was driving around the mountain and wondering what that strange guy in the car was hitting himself in the head for, that was me. Ponder: that lady needed someone there to say a prayer with her, instead of someone standing in a parking lot by himself where she had no idea of what was happening. If nothing else, she would have known that not only had God sent these great police and emergency personnel to help her physically, he also sent someone who could pray with and for her and help her spiritually. Who knows, even the emergency workers might have taken that as a sign of God working in their midst. Good grief, my Bible is even in the back seat of my car!
I remembered the acute “empathy of embarrassment” that I felt. Was it for the lady or for myself? I probably knew deep down that I could help somehow. Was it the badges and the guns and the professionals at work? Don’t look. Keep your head down. Nothing to do with you.
What if I had not cared so much about what other people thought and if I looked a little foolish? Paul told the people from Corinth: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1.27).
What if Christians everywhere were not afraid of looking a little foolish from time to time, expressing their faith in ways that could actually help others?
My prayer today: Dear God, help me be a bolder Christian. Use me in ways that further your kingdom, not my comfort. Forgive me when I fail you. Thank you for “Aha” moments so I can try harder. Amen.
I got back to the gym in time to see the last of the emergency vehicles leaving the parking lot. The next day, the guy behind the counter said that as far as he knew, the lady was going to be O.K. She wandered in from out of the cold, a little confused and suffering from the first signs of hypothermia. Fortunately, the emergency responders knew what to do. Wish I had.
Paul Elgin is the worship leader for the contemporary service at White Mountain United Methodist Church Sundays at 9 a.m. He is a student in the Semlink program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. You can contact him at email@example.com.