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The Beauty of My Discomfort

It’s late fall, not quite Thanksgiving yet. The days are short, and the foliage is mostly gone. Our attention has focused on the coming holidays, football, and indoor pursuits. The mall is busier, the hat and gloves are by the door. Hot chocolate sounds good.

It’s colder, it’s darker, and we’re all looking for a little warmth, a little comfort.

Ironically, at this time of year in New England, the sunsets can be incredible. The contrast between the stark, leafless horizon and the brilliant pink and purple sky is, at times, astonishing. We look at these sunsets, and think, that couldn’t get any more beautiful.

Amazing autumn sunsets make us pause; they disrupt us. In the midst of raking the last fallen leaves, or dashing through the parking lot, or turning on the living room lights at 4:00 in the afternoon, we look at the sky and feel… warm.

But here’s the thing: it’s not warm. For all the fiery glow above the horizon, there’s no real warmth. These sunsets bring out warm feelings, but they don’t stave off the cold.

It was the day after one of those sunsets, on a crisp Sunday morning, that I met Michael.

In Burlington, the short stretch of the Middlesex Turnpike between the highway and the mall is busy. Real busy. Three lanes of traffic on each side, highway on ramps, congested intersections, restaurants and stores on either side. It’s no place for pedestrians.

Yet most days, you’ll see folks out there on foot. People walking to or from their retail/restaurant jobs, dodging on ramp traffic. Solicitors in bright traffic safety vests, walking around with generic badges and white buckets that say, “FEED STARVING CHILDREN” on them. And, standing in the median, there’s usually a homeless person with a cardboard sign, asking for a little help.

I’ve driven by the scene hundreds of times. It’s on my daily commute, and it’s on my drive to church on Sundays. I’ve given a few dollars here and there, usually when the kids are in the car. (“See, kids – dad’s living on mission! I just gave those starving kids almost what I spent on coffee yesterday!”). I’ve paused to let the retail workers cross the street – as long as I’m not running late. And I’ve dredged a few bucks from my wallet for the homeless people, bitter that the money might just go to feed a bad habit, not a hungry stomach.

But I’ve never learned any of their names.

Last Sunday, I was in the car, alone, on my way to our Watertown campus. As a staff member, I need to keep in touch with the Sunday morning goings-on at each of our locations, and sometimes my mornings are an equal balance of work and worship. This was one of those mornings, a “working morning,” so the family wasn’t with me. I was in Work Mode.

I pulled up to the light by the on ramp on the Middlesex Turnpike, and – as usual – there was a homeless person to my left. But he was a younger guy, a new face I hadn’t seen before. I could see his hands were dirty, but his sign was neatly written, and he appeared almost… pleasant.

Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t too rushed, or that there were hardly any other cars on the road. Maybe it was that I was taken by his expression – the warmth of it.

I reached into my wallet, pulled out $5, and rolled down the window.

“What’s your name?”

“Michael.”

“Michael, here’s enough to get some breakfast.”

“Thanks – thank you very much! You’re very kind.”

I handed him the money. But he didn’t just take it and walk away. He looked at me, like now we had this, this conversation going, and he didn’t want to let it stop. But I didn’t want to let it continue, so I started to roll up the window. Then an ‘aha’ moment hit me, and I paused the window.

“I’ll be praying for you Michael.”

“Thank you, sir. I really appreciate that.”

The window went up, the light changed, and I drove off.

I’d given money to someone who needed it, I’d prayed for him, and I was on time, on my way to church. It was a good morning.

And I was uncomfortable.

As I drove down the highway, all I could think about was how I’d wasted my chance to offer more help. I could’ve told Michael about Revive Community Church just down the road, the one with Celebrate Recovery. I could’ve taken him to breakfast, and possibly made a meaningful difference in his life. I could have learned more about him than just his first name.

Like the cold, brilliant sunset from the night before, my actions had all the appearance of kindness, of beauty, of God’s love. They could be appreciated, but they didn't bring real warmth.

I thanked God for the lesson. I asked for forgiveness for wasting this opportunity. And, again, I prayed for Michael.

May God bless him with the warmth of His presence, in spite of me.

There is beauty in my discomfort.

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