On September 24th, 2016, I came across a suspicious van parked behind a shopping center with a man inside of it. If my suspicions were correct, it was my intention to have the man arrested and the van towed. This guy didn’t have a driver’s license and the van was uninsured and unregistered. I soon learned that the man was homeless and that all he owned was in the van with him. I further learned that none of my initial suspicions were valid. While I still had enough reason to at least tow the van, I was oddly filled with compassion for the homeless man and did not move forward with any action at all. How could I, knowing that I would be going home to a warm home and loving family, and all my “stuff,” and he would be stuck there in the van. I was able to express my decision to those working with me during this circumstance and they too agreed that it was overall the best option to not press negative consequences on this person.
On this past Sunday, I attended services at Grace and heard Pastor Dan speak about compassion. I immediately thought of the day prior and felt pretty good about myself in this area- considering that I could have caused a major negative shift in the trajectory of the life of the man in the van. Then, in hearing Pastor Dan speak the Word, and reading the text for myself, I was overcome with the reality that my sense of compassion for people is minimal and that Jesus’ was maximal. I felt the need to have maximum compassion… to do the most I could do in a circumstance, not the least.
Throughout the rest of Sunday and into the early morning hours of Monday, the man in the van weighed heavy on my heart. I had the knowledge and the ability to help the man maximally. I knew all of the steps necessary to help him with a driver’s license – to the extent that he would qualify to get one – and could help him with insurance and even registration for the van. It might take actually driving him to several locations over several days or weeks; spending time with him and helping him study for a drivers test; spending money on insurance and fees and fines. It would most certainly take me down from my comfortable perch and into the valley where he lived…where the shadows live; where darkness is. It would be…difficult, awkward, smelly, annoying – with no guarantee that I would even be able to help him at all.
On my way to work Monday morning I made the decision to drive back behind the shopping center and actually show compassion to the man. To do the things that were impressed upon me. To help. As I got closer I wrestled with the fact that it was only 7:30 in the morning and he might not want me waking him up that early. Also that he might be ashamed of me offering to help. And, who am I to get involved with a complete stranger anyway? Excuses. I was making excuses. I continued to drive to the shopping center.
When I rounded the final corner to the rear of the building, with my heart racing, I looked – and saw – and sighed. I physically and audibly sighed with relief. The van was gone. Immediately I felt the internal struggle of wanting to be obedient to what I felt I was supposed to do versus what I have always done; what was comfortable; what was easy. I was ashamed of my sigh of relief…my internal, carnal desire to not help anyone, ever. I was embarrassed that I pretend to be a warrior – but only up on my level where it is safe and where I’m in control; never in the valley where shadows and darkness live.
I made the intentional determination to drive methodically through every parking lot and shopping center in the area. I had to override my habitual behavior and force myself to move toward being like Christ. If it was God’s will for me to help this man, then I would find him and help him. I did not find him, and I’m sad because of it. Yet, I have learned more about my need to know Christ intimately so that I can behave like him naturally; to know his Word specifically so that I can respond quickly; to love His people – all people – with compassion.
Eric is married to Carrie and has three boys and Molly the dog. He is a public safety professional and loves Jesus above all.