I think of myself generally as a compassionate person.
Sometimes I even consider my compassion to be a curse (when a burden gets laid upon my heart, then another, then another, and I hurt for so many in the world).
But I was again faced with the ugly truth yesterday.
I can be just as selfish as the next person.
I feel the need to preface my story by saying that I haven’t been in the best of moods lately about human nature, in general – and much of that revolves around the court system, of all things. I’ve had to be in courtrooms over the past couple of years more times than I think anyone should ever spend in a lifetime (unless, of course, you’ve chosen to be a judge). I feel in the times I’ve been there that I or others have been treated unjustly in a system that, to be honest, seems to exist more for itself than for the good of the whole. In the last several circumstances, greed has been the prevailing factor, in which others have sought to take what was not rightfully and ETHICALLY theirs, but by which LEGALLY they could create great costs and burdens on others who were already paying high prices for these individuals’ actions.
Yes, I know that’s rather vague, but my point essentially is this…when you’ve been exposed to greed and had people stealing what little you possess, apparently it wears down your compassion and perhaps creates a stingy kick-back response.
Point in case…
My sister and I have a tradition of sharing dinner & a movie for our birthdays. This week, it was her turn. I arranged to take her to a matinee movie, and had brought along a free popcorn & soft drink coupon that I had saved up for the occasion, along with a coupon stuffed away for the dining establishment she had chosen. (In other words, I was having to be thrifty with my celebration extravaganza.)
As I pulled into the parking lot of the movie theater, I noticed a younger man standing up from where he’d been squatted next to a car across the aisle. As he stood, his beltless pants sagged well below his waist line without the usual fortunate covering of underwear. As a mother of a teenage son, I have no doubt, I ground my back teeth in irritation. When I pulled into my parking space, I didn’t see my sister yet, so I began searching through my purse for my coupons and my discount theater points card.
That’s when I noticed him – in my side mirror.
The same man (probably in his mid twenties, though I’m assuming it was his lifestyle that made his face appear older) was standing at the rear of my car, blocking my exit for the moment I decided to open my door. An alarm went off inside my head that told me to stay where I was, as I saw no other persons nearby and I wasn’t certain of his intent.
Five minutes passed.
I began to feel additionally irritated that he hadn’t moved and was causing me to feel trapped in my own car.
I watched as he swung around the car parked next to mine to approach the front of my car. He yelled out, “Ma’am, ma’am!”
Probably because he seemed to have some sense of manners, I partially rolled down my window and politely responded to his call.
“Will you give me some money for…?”
I never heard what it was for. His voice faded, as he tried to decide for himself what he should say.
It didn’t matter. I was already aggravated about his pants. I was irritated that he’d trapped me in my car. I felt the need to show him I wasn’t going to be his victim.
“No, I won’t.” My answer was harsh, cold, to the point.
He turned, dropped his head, and began walking across the parking lot, unintentionally (or not) mooning me as he went.
I jumped out, locked my door and headed the opposite direction, asking the girl at the theater counter to alert mall security, as I stood at the door watching him veer toward cars, looking into them.
It wasn’t until much later, until I had time for the alarms in my head to silence themselves, that I had an overwhelming compassion flow over me.
What had I done? Or better yet – not done? There was a store across the lot. If his pants bothered me so badly, couldn’t I have gone into it and gotten the man a belt? Maybe even a pair of underwear?
So what if he did have track marks up the insides of his arms? Did I have the right to judge him for that? How could I have known what his life had been like? What it was going to be?
Couldn’t I have found one simple way to show this man one ounce of compassion?
And yet, all I showed him was contempt. The same thing that had likely caused him to be in that parking lot, begging for his next meal or his next fix. Which was it? Had I even cared? Not when it mattered the most.
* * *
Matthew 25:40 says – The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I did nothing, Lord. Nothing. God, forgive my lack of compassion.