No More Going Back

I felt pretty good for giving a man the gloves right off my hands as I headed into the grocery store. Not just any gloves, but my favorite gloves. I only had them for a couple of weeks and had hardly worn them myself.

I felt even better as I added a few extra food items to my own list to share with him on the way out. Generosity’s warm rush was surging as I got cash back at the register to pass from my naked hand to his newly gloved hand. I had a few moments, smiles, and handshakes with the man when I exited the store.

Just ten steps away, two seconds away, a woman was pleading with her eyes even more than her lips. Pleading for money, for food, for her children. I walked away leaving her with nothing but sorry eyes and an excuse. All my warmth was gone and couldn’t be recovered by getting more gloves.

Could I have been more generous that day? Why wasn’t I? Lines from a recently memorized Wendell Berry poem kept echoing:

Now more than ever you can begloves in black and white

generous toward each day

that comes…

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.

I couldn’t even respond to Wendell before James reminded me, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit” (2:14-16, NKJV).

I gave what I could, right? I can’t just give to every single person I meet, right? What if they waste my hard-earned money on drugs or something else I don’t agree with? I can’t believe I was making that inner argument. I roll my eyes when I hear others voice it, yet there I was. How often do I spend $5 in ways that others would judge as wasteful? Poor excuse.

Driving down the road with my heated seat and steering wheel turned on, I reasoned that this was only the beginning of my errands and that people were waiting on me. After all, I would be joining my family to volunteer at a feeding program for the food insecure. Jesus would understand. Wouldn’t he?

My memory dragged me back to the story of how Jesus interrupted his trip to heal Jairus’s daughter. He stopped to draw a woman out of her preferred anonymity to commend her faith and adopt her into his family on the spot.

“Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48, NKJV).

Can you believe it? He called her daughter. He issued words of endearment she probably hadn’t heard in years.

Before Jesus could say anything else, it was announced that Jairus’s daughter was dead. How could Jesus have wasted time looking for someone who didn’t want to be seen when there was a life and death issue waiting at his next appointment?

Had I forgotten that there’s often as much divinity in unexpected delays as in planned destinations? Apparently so. Ministry in the delay on the way to the destination was one in the same for Jesus back then, why not now? Why not for me?

It would have taken less time to listen to the woman in front of the store and tangibly respond to her needs than to argue with Wendell, James and Jesus as I drove down the road. This was the true waste of time. Have I since wasted more than the few dollars that would have delighted her? Certainly.

This lost opportunity was now part of the lives and deaths that now belong to me, for which “there is no going back” (Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems, p. 141).

 

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