On Ash Wednesday, at the end of a long day, I drove down to the local Caltex to get some fuel. It was coming up to nine o’clock in the evening as I walked across the concrete to pay for the fuel and as I did this a very dishevelled man asked someone coming out of the shop if they could give him some money. That person apologised and hurried off to their car while I walked past avoiding eye contact with the man so I wouldn’t be asked the same question!
As I was paying for the fuel this man came in and stood in front of the grocery shelves muttering to himself while jingling two coins in his hand. He was barefoot, his clothes were dirty, and his hair was long and unwashed. I realised as I paid for the fuel that I had a five dollar note in my wallet, so I went to the man and gave it to him saying, “Please have this!”
He looked startled, before giving me a huge smile. Then he stepped forward and wrapped both of his arms around me in a big hug saying, “Bro-th-er!”
It was my turn to look startled, but I hugged him back, and was enveloped by the moist smell of stale sweat and urine. We both stepped back smiling and shook hands warmly. A long history of hard times was etched in his face…and I wondered where he was going to sleep that night.
As I headed out of the shop he called out, “Bro!” and I stopped and turned back. He said, “Don’t let the bad guys get you down!” and he raised his eyebrows at me like an elder passing on wisdom to someone who needed to hear it. I thanked him for the good advice and laughed because he didn’t say “bad guys” – he used another word which I don’t hear very often!
When I got into the car and wound the window down to release some of the residual smell on my clothes, I couldn’t help but smile. It had been a wonderful way to finish Ash Wednesday and begin the journey of Lent!
The next day I shared with a Brisbane friend what had happened and suggested that maybe I had unexpectedly met Christ when I went to the Caltex service station. He gently teased me saying, “And you only gave him five bucks!”
I think my friend has a point because five bucks is really nothing. Simply the cost of a good cup of coffee. The next time it’d be good for me to ask a person in similar circumstance if they’d like a meal. But there was something in what happened that could not be measured in dollars. The person did not ask for help, a generous hug was exchanged, and…wisdom for life’s journey was offered!
Reflecting on the encounter I think there is a gentle challenge from God for me to be a little more mindful about what’s going on in the lives of those around me, and to recognise the daily opportunities there are to encourage and be encouraged.
I wonder if this challenge of being more mindful resonates with you and if it does, invite you to join me in giving this the focus during the weeks of Lent.Jump to next article