I saw something very touching one cold winter’s evening in New York City.
Or maybe heartbreaking is a better word.
As I was descending into the subway station to wait for the train, a man was standing on the platform near the wall.
From my quick peripheral observation, which I sadly mastered during my time living in New York City, I could tell he was homeless.
The assumption was confirmed when I heard him mumbling something to people as they passed by.
To each person he murmured the same phrase. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, which I thought probably meant he was drunk or mentally ill.
I gathered all this in about two seconds time as I watched the person a few steps ahead of me pass him by, not even glancing his way.
Then, I passed by, not even glancing his way.
I felt a pang of guilt. Or perhaps conviction.
I heard another man’s voice behind me say kindly, “What is it you need, sir?”
I turned around and saw the whole scene unfold.
The man who didn’t pass by was clean cut and well-dressed in business clothes.
Again, the homeless man mumbled his line. The man who didn’t pass by asked him to repeat it because he couldn’t understand.
Finally he heard, and I heard, what the man what saying.
“Would you mind doing me a small favor?”
“Sure, what can I do for you?” (He was just as uncomfortable as the rest of us would have been in the same situation. He was painfully aware of everyone else on the platform staring at the scene, and aware of the potential hazards in stopping. But he stayed.)
“Sir, would you mind zipping up my jacket? I’m crippled and can’t do it on my own.”
Immediately his handicap became obvious: his right hand and forearm were shriveled, held lifelessly against his chest.
The man who didn’t pass by stepped forward, moving in close enough to zip the jacket. That’s a pretty intimate process — way beyond the boundaries of personal space. It’s something parents do for their small children.
He fumbled for a few seconds with the zipper on the man’s dirty maroon jacket, then proceeded to zip it up. There they stood, face to face.
The homeless man was obviously touched, repeating, “Thank you so much, sir, thank you so much.”
The train pulled up. I stepped into the same car as the man who didn’t pass by and I could hear the homeless man yell again with emotion in his voice, “Thank you so much, sir!”
As we pulled away from the station, the homeless man remained there on the platform, quickly shrinking in the distance.
I looked over and saw tears in the eyes of the man who didn’t pass by. I said to him, “That was really amazing.”
He looked down sadly, shook his head, and sincerely said,“No, it really wasn’t. I could have done so much more.”
Yes, I guess he could have. But he did so much more than any of the rest of us were willing to do.
That man, my husband, allowed himself to be interrupted. He stopped for the one person right in front of him. The one God had placed in his path. He didn’t consider the statistics on homelessness and mental illness. He didn’t evasively rationalize bypassing the man before him, regardless of his inability to assist the entire homeless population of NYC. He simply stopped and served, motivated by his own experience of God’s love.
And I believe this is our call as followers of Christ, as well as mothers.
I can only do what one woman can. I can’t be everything to everyone, but I can be something meaningful to the ones the Lord places in my path. But oh, how often I must force myself to stop and see, to be interrupted.
When my eyes are not fixed on the right Planner, what I perceive as “interruptions” assail me from all sides. They come from my children, my husband, and from others with whom my days intersect.
But when I actually start asking God to interrupt my day and my plans, the person standing in front of me suddenly appears purposeful, beautiful, and carefully chosen.
How I long for my children to understand the love of Jesus, who time and time again stopped for just one while many others waited.
Jesus clearly calls us to stop for people in need. And he graciously provides all that we need to serve and love them. Yes, the plans we draft for our day will be tampered with. But this is for our good. The One who interrupted our rebellion to show us transforming grace may also interrupt our plans to give us abounding love.