I heard the crying as soon as the engine died. It was hard to ignore, our respective vehicles only feet apart, our windows rolled down to let in the hot wind. Her SUV was pulled to the curb across the street outside the school, my mini-van on the opposite side. As soon as she turned the key, the quiet of the neighborhood settled around us. Glancing up from the book in my lap, I lowered my glasses. She was crying all right, sobs muffled as she held her head in her hands.
I read the same paragraph four times straight, all the while praying the woman would get control of herself.
I didn’t want to approach her. I didn’t want to ask if she was okay. I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness, the discomfort. I didn’t want to walk straight into a stranger’s pain. I wanted to sit in my car with my book in my lap and ignore the sounds of distress. I wanted to push the button on the side of my door and roll up the automatic window so I didn’t have to hear or see or acknowledge.
She didn’t stop crying.
I put my book face-down on the passenger seat, clicked open the lock, swung open the door. I walked five steps across the street, my eyes on the pavement as I approached her window. “I don’t want to intrude on your privacy,” I said to the woman in the car, lifting my eyes to meet hers. “But you seem upset, and, well, can I do anything to help?”
Mascara was smudged like charcoal on both of her cheeks. Her eyes were red-rimmed, bloodshot and raw. “No, no, I’m okay, I’m okay,” she gulped, staring down at her lap. “I’m okay,” she said again, glancing up at me standing outside her window.
“Okay,” I said. I lifted my hand to touch her arm, but I stopped just short, resting it on the door frame of her car instead. “Okay,” I repeated. “I just wanted to make sure. Let me know if I can do anything though.” I stood there for a half-second, my hand on her car, grappling for something, anything else to say. But there was nothing.
I walked back to my car and slid into the front seat. I picked up my book again, but I didn’t read another word.
I didn’t do anything to help the woman in the car. I didn’t ease or pain or assuage her suffering. I didn’t solve her problems. The only thing I’d done was heed the nudge I’d felt deep inside me, the nudge I’d wanted to ignore.
I think sometimes we forget that poverty – whether poverty of spirit or poverty of circumstances — isn’t our problem to solve. Jesus didn’t command us to go out and solve the world’s problems. He didn’t instruct us to go out and singlehandedly obliterate suffering. He simply commanded we go out.
Go out and show compassion.
Go out and offer help to one person in need.
Go out and love our neighbor.
It’s easy to succumb to apathy in the face of the world’s problems. Pain is everywhere. Poverty is rampant. Everyone is suffering, everyone is carrying a burden. It’s easy to conclude, Why bother? What’s the point? What can I do, one person amid millions of suffering and burdened, millions of hopeless and sick.
But the point isn’t really what one person can or can’t do. It’s whether one person will or won’t serve. Jesus asks us, commands us, to serve. Not to solve, but simply to serve. We won’t always make a noticeable difference. The story won’t always have a happy ending. But he asks us to hear the call and to heed it nonetheless.
“Poverty is not necessarily an issue to solve; it is an opportunity to serve. As we go through each day, our heart’s cry should be, Lord, where would you have me give, serve, and invest myself to bring hope to the poor?” — Orphan Justice author, Johnny Carr