I’m back. And better than ever? Debatable. If nothing else, I guess I can use this as a warmup for my retreat Talk. Fair warning, this is going to be one of those deep introspection articles.
I was raised to be kind and respectful to others. I have tried to be polite to strangers and people in need. Jesus told us to love our neighbors. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” I once gave a retreat Talk that included a personal story regretting not giving more money to a stranger that claimed to be in deep need. The point was that it didn’t matter if he was trying to scam me or not. Jesus didn’t tell us to help people, as long as they can pass your own personal litmus test of worthiness. I try to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. But do I really?
There is a guy who stands outside my CVS and asks people for money. I always make sure I have my headphones in and hurry past him when I leave the store. A couple of months ago there was a gentleman in a wheelchair who was harassing people in my bus line. I was really happy when the bus came and he didn’t get on. I deliberately avoid eye contact with the guy who sits in the stairs to my subway station in the city with the sign saying “I might as well be invisible.” That one, in particular, makes it tougher to look in the mirror.
Then there are the homeless people who sleep on subway cars. I don’t begrudge them their spots, especially in the bitter cold. They tend to smell, but I can either deal with it or move to a different car. They have it a lot worse than I do. I look at them and think “those poor people” or “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” But here’s the thing: That is my second reaction.
My first reaction is “ugh.”
My compassion and empathy quickly override my gut reaction, but it’s always there, all the same. So I am forced to wonder if that compassion and empathy is genuine. Am I actually a decent caring person, or am I just pretending to be one because I think that is how I am supposed to act? And I do think that is how I am supposed to act. See previous comments re: Jesus for corroborating evidence.
You can’t help everybody. I know that. But it also seems like a very convenient excuse to help fewer people than I might. I want to be a good person, but I don’t know if that makes me a good person. I don’t know if that’s enough.
These are some of the things that make it difficult to rely on prayer as a form of two-way communication. I wish I could ask Jesus how He reacted in these kinds of situations. Surely His human side provided authentic reactions to unpleasant stimuli. I’d really like to ask if He ever said ‘ugh’ before the God part took over. Though I suspect I already know the answer, and that it wouldn’t make me feel better about myself.
A downer ending, I know. This is probably why I haven’t written an article in a couple of months. I’m out of practice. Better figure out a better structure for that retreat Talk. Can’t leave the teenagers on this kind of note. Really, I shouldn’t do that to you, either.
Okay… Um… Kittens! Puppies! A barrel of fluffy ducks!
Ugh. I’ll do better next month.