Several years ago I was walking to dinner in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, when a man approached me on the sidewalk. He said that he was hungry and asked me to buy him food. I told him that maybe I could help him on my way back. I continued on, ate my supper, paid the bill, and returned to my car by a different route so that I wouldn’t encounter him again.
I am ashamed to say that I didn’t give the man a second thought that night. But I have given him a second thought since. I have never forgotten the incident, and to this day it remains a painful memory. It was not one of my finer moments. Whenever the memory surfaces, I find myself wondering what happened to the man. Did anyone give him something to eat? I think about what I would do differently if I could do it over.
I would like to be able to say that this is the only time I have passed by someone in need; but it isn’t. I have done the same since — kept on going when I could have helped, had the means to help, and had every reason in the world to help. I think about the apostle Paul, shipwrecked on the island of Malta. He says of the people he encountered there that they showed him “unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2, niv). I find “unusual kindness” a striking turn of phrase. Their kindness to Paul was rare, unexpected, not required, perhaps inconvenient; but they still went out of their way to care for him. Unfortunately, the man whose need I ignored could not say the same of me.
I am reminded of times in my own life when others have shown me unusual kindness. Nine times out of ten, it is the smallest acts that have made the most difference — an encouraging word when I really needed it, an invitation to dinner when I was feeling lonely, and the list goes on. These actions have made a lasting impression on me and changed the way that I am attentive to and respond to the needs of others. I do my best not only to help when called on but to look for situations in which the need may be less obvious.
My mother is always saying that she wants to have no regrets when given the opportunity to show her faith through her actions. When she has the chance to offer help, show kindness, compassion, or gratitude, she takes it. “No regrets” has become a mantra for me.
Sometimes we have opportunities to display our faith in grand and spectacular ways. More often we can show it through small and simple acts of kindness, compassion, and service — visiting an elderly person in the nursing home, cutting the grass for our neighbor who is recovering from surgery, buying food for someone who is hungry. Now when I encounter an opportunity — big or small — to put my faith into action, I remind myself of the night I passed by someone in need. I remind myself that when it comes to helping others, I want to have no regrets.
Several meditations in this issue address putting our faith into action. You may want to read again the meditations for September 2, 18, 26, 29 and October 5, 8, 12, 21, 25 before responding to the reflection questions below.
Questions for Reflection:
1. When have you missed an opportunity to put your faith into action? What will you do differently the next time you have a similar opportunity?
2. Read Hebrews 13:2. Recall a time when you have seen this verse lived out in a real way. What did you observe? What did this experience teach you about how we are to help others?
3. How can you help others in small and simple ways in the coming week?
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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