Something odd happened yesterday when I went to the supermarket. I was standing in the snack food aisle trying to decide between corn chips or pretzels when a slightly built, balding man approached me. He was about my height and dressed in clothes that had faded from hours of being hung out in the sun. He approached and said, “Sorry to bother you, Ma’am.” My thoughts of snacks were interrupted by the absurdity of someone calling me, “Ma’am” since I’m only 27 and lean more towards an athletic build then a stooped-over old lady.
Now that he had my attention, I noticed he had odd little blue patches at the very corner of the bags of his eyes, and his skin was stretched so thinly over his face I could make out the pattern of veins that brought very little color to his complexion.
“My wife and daughter were killed in a car accident two weeks ago,” I heard as I realized he was still speaking to me, “and I spent all my money on their funeral but now I need to buy diapers for my grandchild, could you please help me?”
My mouth opened and the words came out: “Sure, go choose them, I’ll meet you back here.”
Even as I was saying it, I was processing the cost of what I was saying. I don’t have children, but I have friends that do, and I know that diapers cost a lot more than a can of cola or a bottle of beer. I’m not made of money so I did a few quick calculations and worked out I could either buy the diapers or the luxury items I had been planning to purchase. So quietly, while he was in the other aisle, I dumped my purchases and walked with the man, whose name turned out to Michael, toward the checkout. While in the queue I asked him if he would like to buy himself a chocolate or something for himself. I expected him to gratefully pick up a chocolate and add it to the diapers I clutched in my hand. Instead he said, “I don’t know if you can afford it, but what I really need is baby formula.”
While we were walking out, I was having an internal battle with myself about whether or not I should ask if I could pray for him. You see, the day before I had read in the Bible of the time when Peter and John had met a beggar who had asked them for money. They said they didn’t have any but would he mind if they prayed for him and then they asked that God would heal him and the man who had been crippled for forty years stood up and walked. It struck me when I was reading Acts 3 how quick I am to either pass by beggars saying I have nothing offer or on philanthropic days I offer money that does very little good. I’d challenged myself to try and offer active, life-changing prayer to people I met who were in desperate situations rather than just paying them to keep silent and leave me alone. It struck me that Peter and John didn’t only offer prayer but the dignity of recognizing the beggar as a person with value before God.
Michael and I stepped out into the sunlight, and I realized the moment had come for me to follow Peter and John’s example and resemble a little of Jesus incarnated. I still hesitated though because my prayer probably wouldn’t result in a miracle; after all, Michael could walk and it seemed a little stupid and hollow to pray for a man in the middle of mall, a man who I had only just met. But God got the better of me and as we were about to part I said, “Would you mind if I prayed for you quick before we go?”
He said he’d really like that. I laid my hand on his shoulder and I closed my eyes. I’m not sure why I closed my eyes because I’m normally a wide-eyed pray-er but perhaps the absurdity and solemnity of the moment demanded it. We stood there with the security guard looking on and I prayed that God would continue to provide for his needs, that his heart would know healing and that in these hard times he’s experiencing that he know God to be very near. The prayer was uttered in a minute, and I will probably never know whether that prayer changed his life, or whether God intervened in his life in a powerful way.
Sometimes I choose not to do things because I don’t know what the outcome will be. Even worse, I sometimes choose not to do things because I think the other person will think I’m strange or I’m just scared I’ll fumble and looks like a klutz. Something odd happened yesterday when I went to the supermarket, I wasn’t any of things to this man who approached me, I wasn’t strange, or fumbling or klutzy, rather for a few minutes I was a person who was doing life a lot like Jesus would. As Michael and I went our separate ways I prayed that I learn to do life the way Jesus would not just for a few minutes but for every minute of my life.
Wendy Harbottle is a TV Producer for Africa’s only 24-hour Christian music channel (www.onegospel.co.za) and writes about love, life and the Holy Spirit in her free time at www.undonebook.blogspot.com.