“Is that a Bible??”
I was almost to the door of this coffee shop in Denver where I was going to sit and write a blog post about something spiritual, poetic, and reflective. But now there was a woman stopped in the middle of the sidewalk a few feet in front of me, pointing at the weighty book in my hand.
I nodded and said “Yup!” hoping to resume walking and enter the sanctuary of the shop, where I could pop on my over-ear headphones and narrow in on my writing.
But this woman, no more than five foot three, stood and stared at me, her mouth slightly ajar. From the way she talked and stared, it became evident that her brain was dancing to a different rhythm than mine. Autism or Aspergers maybe?
My patience ran short, but I tried not to snap off a rude comment.
“I love the Bible!” she said after a few seconds!
I smiled with a politician’s grin to mask my shrinking patience and asked her what her favorite book is.
She fiddled with something in her back pocket. Then her front coat pocket. Then said “John. I’m doing a Bible study of John right now.”
“That’s great,” I said, “What do you like about it?”
“I like how it shows that he knows what we’re going through. And that he is love.”
It took me a second to realize that the antecedent to those pronouns was Jesus.
And then my heart was melted. Conviction slammed into me as I realized that the very Person I was in such a hurry to write about would have stopped and talked to this lady for hours. Yet here I was, trying to rush past her in order to write about Him and look good online.
The headlines would read:
Ethan Renoe, Ultra-Spiritual Blogger, Spares 47 Seconds for Sweet Handicapped Woman on the Sidewalk as He Rushes into Coffee Shop to Write About Jesus
Youth Pastor Urges Students to Be More Like Jesus, Doesn’t Want to Spend Time with Fellow Believer on the Street
“Whatever you did for the least of these,” said Jesus, “you did for me.” In other words, if I could only give this lady a few seconds of my time, I would probably give Jesus the same amount.
Jesus did not come as a YouTube star or Teenage Sweetheart. People didn’t follow Him around because of His political pull or cultural savvy. I doubt He would have sported the tight black jeans with the knees torn out and paid an extravagant amount on a haircut.
I think He would appear more like this woman on the sidewalk; the one I could barely give a minute of my time. The plain, sweet, unpretentious lady who was more interested in making a new friend than how she appeared. And I think that if Jesus had been in my place today, He would have sat her down to a cup of coffee and heard her story, regardless of how awkward and choppy the dialogue was.
I was convicted today realizing that to be like Jesus is to make time for the un-fun and un-glamorous people. The mouth-breathers and acne-infested. Ministry is about loving real people more than it’s about theories, words, or hermeneutical gymnastics.
Because Christianity is easy when it’s only digital. It’s easy to caption a picture with a Bible verse or have your bio be some hymn lyrics.
But when it puts on skin and takes up your time on the sidewalk, how will you respond? Will you be too busy to stop and talk for a sec, or will you take time to show the love of this Christ whom we confess? In my own heart, I’ve realized that it’s far easier for me to be drawn to the affluent and beautiful people; the ones who give me street credit or a step up the societal ladder.
“What’s your name?” I asked her with renewed softness.
“Sabrina,” she said as she fumbled her hand out of her coat pocket to shake mine.
“Great to meet you,” I said, wishing I had felt that way from the beginning.
This morning as I ate my cereal, I read a few pages from N.D. Wilson’s book Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, and it happened to be the passage where he recounts meeting a handicapped woman in a wheelchair on the sidewalk. The woman asked him what his name was, then asked him to be her friend. Then he has a similar epiphany about generous love. (What are the odds??)
I wish I made friends the way these people do. They don’t care who you are, nor do they think too lowly or too highly of themselves. They just want to make friends.
They are the epitome of Henri Nouwen’s longing to be ‘free from the weight of having to judge others.’
Free to love others instead of judge them; free to love themselves instead of heaping baggage and shame upon their backs.
I think this is a step toward what Jesus described when He talks about having the mindset of a child. Children don’t strategize friendships to make steps up the social ladder, nor do they select more aesthetic people so they look better on Instagram. They just want to love people without tether or chain. It sounds way more fun than whatever mindset I’ve been stuck in.
Praise God for unexpected wakeup calls.
May we be people who love like Jesus did—the unattractive, the sick, the lowly, the least—even if it means burning a few minutes on the sidewalk to talk to a sudden friend. May our love be childlike, and may our patience expand. And may we make friends just for the fun of it.