One of my recent Advent meditations was about twisted bowels. Before you think “too much information” and click on please let me explain. The author, John Pavlovitz, goes on to say that the root word for ‘compassion’ used in the Gospels is from the Greek word splankhnon meaning bowels or principal organs. The ancient Greeks believed this is where passionate emotions such as love and anger came from. Have you ever had “Your stomach in knots”, “twisted off”, or been “sick about” something?
He goes on to say that the same word is used in Matthew 9.36 where Jesus “saw the crowds and had compassion on them”. Then Pavolvitz asks “Where is the burden? What bothers me…to the point of sickness?”
I turn at the stoplight on the corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Riverside Drive each day as I head to Opal’s Farm. For those unfamiliar with Fort Worth this is close to the missions and night shelters for Fort Worth’s homeless citizens. I’m usually confronted by two or three panhandlers when I stop at the light. I don’t carry cash most of the time, but I can usually spare a cigarette or some of my lunch snacks if they want. I have my “favorites” and tend to reserve my small resources for them.
Many times, I find myself trying to get through the intersection as quickly as possible. Some days I feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem and, if I’m honest, other days I simply don’t want to be bothered. It often feels as though I can’t go anywhere – gas stations, grocery stores, the convenience store down the street – without running into someone begging for “whatever you can give”. The number of such encounters has grown significantly this year. I stop “seeing” their faces after a while. I avoid eye contact in hopes that they’ll pass me by.
That’s not the person I thought I was or want to be…
The other day I had to run up the street from the farm for gas for the tractor. I was in a hurry. I wanted to get back and refuel as there were volunteers waiting on me. I jumped out of the truck, swiped my credit card, and began filling the gas can. There was an older African American man standing by the door to the store. I’d seen him several times before on the corner panhandling with a 40 oz on the ground beside him.
He began moving in my direction. I silently prayed the gas would flow faster.
“Hey, can you help me get something to eat?”
“Crap” I said to myself. Then I told him all I had was my credit card (which wasn’t true).
“You can’t get me a little something?”
The gas can was full. I seized the opportunity to make my escape from this uncomfortable situation. “No man, all I have is company money (again, not true). I hastily got in the truck and headed out, leaving him mumbling in the rear-view mirror.
I got back to the farm, gassed up the tractor and tried to get some work done. I wasn’t successful. I kept being distracted by the man’s face – grey matted beard and hollow yellow eyes. My stomach began to tighten up and twist. I heard a voice as clear as a bell telling me that I was once that man and that I’d better get back to the gas station as quickly as possible.
The Holy Spirit convicting my spirit. I told my volunteers “I’ll be right back” and hopped in the truck. I hurried back to the gas station. By the time I got there he was gone.
It’s easy to stop ‘seeing’ the pain and brokenness in my world. I get so caught up in my little routines that the big picture gets awfully small. Sometimes the problems seem so overwhelming I put on some serious blinders. I don’t want to have my “stomach tied up in knots”.
I tell everyone that food is a basic human right and then deny it to someone in need because I’m busy? My email signature for work includes Mother Theresa’ admonition that “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. I can be blinded so easily.
My prayer today is for better vision to truly see God’s kids. My prayer today is that I’m sick to my stomach when I see ‘the crowds’, the pain and brokenness around me. My prayer today is to find that old man and buy him lunch…