On Sunday morning, I took a bike ride before church. I love the longer daylight hours of summer. They afford me an opportunity to do things the dark mornings of winter do not allow. I was cruising through our small town and felt impressed to take a few turns I don’t normally take to work my way back home. It was after one of those turns that I saw the woman. She looked to be in her late 70’s. She had the small of her back up against a building. She was leaning over with her hands placed on her knees for support. Her head hung low. She looked to be in distress.
I turned around and rode back to the woman and asked, “Are you OK?” She said she was having chest pains and her arm was hurting. Knowing these were the signs of a heart attack I offered to call 911. She said that was not necessary as she had bouts with angina and was familiar with the pain. I offered again to call 911 and again she said she was just uncomfortable and it would pass. I decided to stay with her for a few minutes to make sure something more serious did not develop. We talked some more and during our conversation found out she was a tourist from Florida. She left her family at the hotel to take a morning walk when the pain started.
As I got ready to leave, I asked if I could accompany her back to her hotel or at least give her my cell phone in case she needed to call for assistance. She said thank you and told me that was not necessary. I asked if I could pray for her. I prayed and then said goodbye and rode home.
As I pedaled away from that dear lady, I was overcome with emotion. Here was a person in a life-crisis all alone leaning up against a building in a strange town with no one near who knew her or cared for her. To be alone in a time of need is a fearful experience.
While riding home and processing the encounter and my subsequent emotion, the Lord reminded me this is one of our most important ministries as followers of Jesus. Individuals and entire segments of our culture are leaning up against lonely walls in deep distress. We need to notice their pain and suffering and offer the love of God. God's love can be expressed by simply asking, “Are you OK?” The question tells people we see them. In the moment we notice someone, they are no longer alone.
I was able to experience the beauty of the encounter on Sunday morning by allowing the Spirit to direct me home on a path I don’t normally take. I sometimes think our routines of life get in our way more than we realize. On a predictable and familiar path, we can miss what is waiting for us one street over from our normal pattern.
As I rode away in the cool morning air, I said, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me be part of what just happened.” I felt the beauty and clarity that comes from being bathed in the presence of God. When I got home, I said to Jan, “I just went to church.”