Friday, January 07, 2011

Do You Like Lifesavers?

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks”, was my reply.

Floyd, (not his real name) was leaving the hospital where he had been my roommate for a few days and was going home. Trouble is that he was leaving with four big tumors in his liver, a failing immune system, and many more problems.

Floyd stood there awkwardly, dressed in flannel shirt with cut out sleeves, sweats that showed he was familiar with car repair - truly a “man’s man”, very reluctant to show emotion yet filled with fear and showing an obvious desire to somehow “connect”. I know the signs in People who are desperate for a sense that God exists and that God loves them despite their rough and obnoxious exterior and/or, ( in Floyd’s mind at least) a huge pile of sins.

My encouragement to him had been to simply get himself in God’s presence and pray the prayer of the father in Mark 9: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” “Your part is just to get there, God will do the rest.” Recognizing that God was already in his heart and that his lifestyle had not fully separated him from God, was a great relief to Floyd.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How badly I wish I would have just said, “Floyd, I love Lifesavers,” and received his gift with grace. I was too distracted to notice…I never ask, “What would motivate a man like Floyd to give a near-stranger a somewhat worn out pack of Lifesavers?”

I believe whatever motivated Floyd was far more profound than a few words of encouragement I spent on him. I believe absolutely that God, who knows our hearts and minds had created an “opening” to this man’s soul through which he was reaching out to almost anyone who could help him find a connection to the Divine. He would have been proud to have given me the lifesavers but even more proud to feel he was worth my attention.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I also believe that it would have been pure arrogance to have kicked myself and felt guilty for neglecting to “hear” Floyd’s heart, as though everything depended upon me. God offers us opportunities, we probably miss a high percentage of them. For me, the sadness that accompanies the realization that we missed such a gift from God (…”blessed are those who mourn”) is sufficient to motivate greater vigilance.

Often others don’t see the pain behind our smiles when we show up at church feeling brokenhearted, or defeated, or sinful. It’s painful for us and sometimes hard to believe we are loved. At other times we gather together in worship with deep pain from a new divorce, or a financial disaster that sinks us from “well off” to bankrupt. We need each other to be ready to watch and listen for the nuances that would key them into our pain and brokenness. We need to pay attention to each other and try to discern the hidden message embedded in small gifts: kindness, or a smile, an extra firm handshake, or a pack of Lifesavers.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”