C’s teacher had put in a request for us to send in a specific type of notebook, and I couldn’t find one anywhere, so I emailed her and she said she had an extra one that C could have. I asked what I could get her in return and she asked for boxes of tissues. So, on my way home last night I stopped at the store to get some.
The line to check out was long, and with only one register open we were all getting antsy to move along. Finally another line opened and I made my way to that one, with two men in front of me. The first man at the register was an amiable gentleman buying his groceries and chatting with the woman behind the register. The second man was unsettled. He couldn’t stand still and seemed on edge. When he noticed the first gentleman paying with cash he got animated as he started talking about some kind of exchange he could do with the man. I drifted in and out of listening to the conversation as I thumbed through bargain DVD’s on the shelf next to me. The first man paid and left.
The second man got to the register and seemed rather flustered. He had a handful of items, candy bars, sodas, etc. He also chatted with the woman behind the counter, but he was more abrasive and jarring than the previous man. He had problems swiping his card and needed to be talked through the process. He seemed agitated. A few moments later and he was done. He walked away and the woman behind the counter let out a long sigh. We get all types in here, she muttered.
She was right. I stop at this store frequently as it is a stone’s throw from the highway and an easy on and off for my commute. The store is located in a poor to lower middle class area, which itself is a stone’s throw from considerable wealth. I’m usually dropping by during commuting hours, so I see a huge variety of people walk through the doors- business people, moms with a handful of kids trailing them, and at times the occasional homeless person.
I paid for my tissues and headed for the door. As I went out, I saw the man that had been in front of me, leaning against the building smoking a cigarette and calling out to a person walking toward the store. Are you buying groceries and paying with cash? Because if you are, I have a food stamp card I could pay for your groceries and you could give me the cash. And suddenly his behavior made sense- his jitteriness, his confusion at the register, the way he talked to the cashier. He needed cash because he needed drugs. And in that split second of realization, I judged that man. Ugh. I better not make eye contact. He might ask me for money. He’s creepy. He wastes everything he has on drugs. He can’t take care of himself. He’s nothing.
But in that moment I heard it… The still small voice that can stop me in my tracks.
Don’t you know how much I love him??
When I had been looking at that man, all I saw was his addiction. I didn’t see him. That man that I was so quick to judge, so quick to disregard, so quick to marginalize had a name. And while I had never actually met him, had no idea what his life was like, and had never spoken to him, I walked away from him knowing the most important thing about him that I needed to know- that he was intrinsically valuable. He was the type of man that would have run into the open arms of Jesus while the pious religious leaders watched on in disdain. He would have sat at Jesus’ feet. He would have eaten at his table. And because of that, I could not view him in any other way than with compassion. He wasn’t a statistic. He wasn’t a blight. He wasn’t an inconvenience. He was a broken man in need of a savior, a lost sheep, a prodigal.
So instead of disregarding him, I am choosing to pray for him, that God will bring someone into his life that can truly get him the help that he needs before it is too late- and that God uses the mess of his addiction to bring about his redemption. And I pray for myself, that I can learn better to see people as God does, not with eyes of condemnation, but with eyes of grace so that instead of dismissing the marginalized with a self-righteous shake of my head, I can point them to the only one that can truly give them rest.