The pump was irritatingly slow; and for a mama with a rare hour to herself, I wasn’t excited about the time it was taking to fill my gas tank in the sweltering Southern heat. I took the opportunity to clean out the van and, stepping away to toss my trash, I was approached. “’Scuse me ma’am…” The young man couldn’t have been more than 15, rough in appearance, and his speech was difficult to understand.
I knew what was coming. I’ve been approached for money a thousand times – the requests always preceded by some story I’m hesitant to believe. Admittedly, my default reaction is defense coupled with suspicion. I don’t like being approached by strangers because it makes me feel vulnerable and I like to get out of those situations ASAP. Am I alone on this one? There’s something disconcerting about being approached in a parking lot, regardless of the stranger’s question.
According to the boy’s story, he and his dad ran out of gas and were stranded down the street. Stuck without two pennies to rub together, he wondered if I could help them with gas. The car and the boy’s father were nowhere in sight, but I’m sure my skepticism was in plain view.
What was I supposed to do?? Awkward Central, right? I didn’t want to give him a cold shoulder because that’s just rude, but I also didn’t want to buy in on whatever scam he was possibly selling. Honestly, I just wanted him to go away and ask someone else for help and leave me be.
So I did what any hesitant, cautious-but-Christian woman would do: I expressed regret at his situation. “Oh I’m sorry,” I began, “I don’t have any cash on me.” It was true, though I had my check card and could have accommodated his need. Then, letting my suspicion get the best of me, I quizzed, “Where’s your gas can?” If they’re out of gas, I thought, they should have a gas can. “Over there,” the boy gestured to a beat up can situated next to the station. Expressing regret again, I suggested he get a hold of a phone so he could call someone for help, then returned to my pump, which was still barely trickling fuel into my vehicle. The boy moved to a few other customers who turned him down without conversation.
Lost in thought, I recalled the horrors in the Middle East; Christians being crucified for being Christians – families facing death at the hands of others who disagree with their beliefs. Examining my conscience, I thought while so many are dying horrible deaths in the name of Christ, I could easily die to self for the same reason, and disregard my wants for the sake of another’s need. Life is immeasurably more difficult for countless others – why couldn’t I bend slightly to help another person? Jesus compelled his disciples, “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). What if it wasn’t a stranger, but Christ approaching me through this father and son?
So I took a look around for a brief second and got a bit of a reality check: my original uneasiness faded once I recognized that I was in a safe, well-populated area in the middle of the day; the chances of harm were slim to none and, gazing across the pavement, I saw the boy standing with his father on the phone. Taking my own turn to approach, I sheepishly pointed to the gas can, “Why don’t you let me fill that up?” The man smiled into the phone, “We’ll be all right. A lady’s about to help us!” We made our way over to a presumably faster pump, chatting about how of all days to run out of gas, such a hot one was ZERO fun. A quick swipe of my card and a couple minutes of small talk later, the man gave me a grateful handshake. I looked at the can as he walked away – it was barely half full. He took what he needed with gratitude and zero advantage. I shook my head, embarrassed that I had even hesitated to help.
YOU DID IT TO ME – five powerful Christian words that compel us to examine our motives and actions, to humble ourselves to realize that there are needs greater than our wants. Many Christians are suffering out of devotion to Christ to such extreme degrees that it should move us to serve each other. A few dollars, a gift of time, or a lending hand are small sacrifices for those of us blessed to enjoy comfort and safety. Answer Christ’s call to serve as he serves and love as he loves.