They walk by every day no matter the weather. Morning and evening they stroll past our home on the same looped route around our little town. Sometimes they hold hands. Sometimes, deep in conversation, they rush by engrossed in each other. Sometimes they remain silent. They used to walk with their dog. He’s gone now, yet their perpetual pilgrimage continues.
Her worn clothes hang from thin, hunched shoulders. Standing in line at the check out, she avoids my eye when I try to smile at her. She grunts in response to the cashiers question about her food stamp card. Several times a week I see her either at the grocery store or walking somewhere. Head down, she concentrates on her footsteps rather than the world around her.
Her voice arrives before she does. Always cheery, she calls me Patty Lou (not my name but I don’t care) and asks me what’s for dinner. Is she always this happy or is she faking it? I think as I automatically smile in response to her contagious grin.
His prematurely gray hair, red veined nose and leathery skin tell a story I’ve never heard him utter yet everyone in town knows. Alcoholic. Divorced. Retired. Alone. Hour by hour he drives around cruising the same streets over and over. He’ll stop and talk once in a while, telling me about his kids and grand kids. I listen and smile and eventually he gets in his car and resumes his tour.
Swaying with a drink in his hand, he talks about his golf game. At the clubhouse, as the afternoon stretches into the evening and one drink turns into four or five, his voice gets louder, his sway more pronounced and his golf game becomes legendary in his own eyes. He told me once about his high school days; how he was destined for football greatness. Then his boisterous voice lowered in shame as he shared that his troubled youth killed those football dreams.
Several little ones in tow, her eyes look tired and her demeanor weary. He left. She’s alone, trying to be a good mom and provider. When I ask how she’s doing her response is always the same: Fine. I’m great. The hollow look I see for a split second tells a different story.
I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like me, but she plasters on her smile and pretends. I think my freedom offends her–but that’s conjecture on my part. Her hair is perfect, her clothes are perfect, her kids are perfect and she’s very good at following rules. In fact, she really, really likes rules. I often wonder, as I try to go a bit deeper with her, what straw of grace and love will pierce her perfect veneer.
God puts people in front of me every day. I stand face to face with souls He wants me to love. Love that calls for obedience from me. They’re not projects or future church goers. They may never darken the door of my church or put money in a collection plate or understand doctrines and theology or even notice that I care. They may never like me or be my friend. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is how I respond to them in that moment God places them in my path. They’re God-loved individuals with stories of past hurts and present struggles. I don’t get to decide how they respond to God’s love. As Oswald Chambers said “Let the consequences of your obedience be left up to God.”
I try to be obedient in these moments and minister to whomever He places in front of me, trying not to look beyond them to the next person or project. But some people are easier to love face to face than others. The sweet young single mom…easy to love. The middle-aged, drunk golfer with the crude t-shirts…not so much. But doesn’t loving like God mean self-sacrifice? I don’t get to choose who He puts in my face or when or whether it’s convenient for me and neither do you. Maybe it’s your mother-in-law or the woman at church who is constantly pointing out the error of your ways or the negative needy co-worker who selfishly interrupts you day after day after day or your less than perfect spouse. I don’t know who He puts in your path but I do know when He places individuals in front of us, it’s so they can see Him.