Sometimes we are tested. Maybe we know at the time that we are being tested, but many times it is after the fact when we become aware that we were tested and that we failed the test.
There was a week during this past year when a heavy workload and imposed deadlines created a great deal of stress in my life. I was working ten to twelve hour days, going in early and leaving late. My sleep routine was interrupted. My sense of normal was off balance. I felt exhausted and irritable. It was during two days of this week that I was tested.
The first test:
It was a busy day at the office. The lobby was packed with clients. The phone seemingly didn’t stop ringing. Lunch seemed like an inevitable pass. Working with a client at my desk, I realized that I had left his file in my car. I stepped outside the office to retrieve it and as I was shutting my car door I noticed an aged man, probably in his late sixties, asking people walking by him for money to pay for bus fare. He was trying to explain as people walked by that he had been separated from his travel companion. He didn’t have a way home and needed money to take the bus.
My immediate thought was to hurry and get back inside the building before he saw me. I knew that I had a twenty in my wallet but that was all. I didn’t have any single dollars and would have to give him the whole twenty. Besides I didn’t have the time. I had a client at my desk and several more waiting. I hurried back inside and returned to my desk.
Outside my window I could see the man still trying to talk to people passing by him. I had a pressing thought urging me to do the right thing and to go outside and give him bus fare even it meant giving him the only money that I had. This thought was competing against the realization of my client looking at his watch indicating that he was also in a hurry. And it was against the realization that if I did manage to get a lunch break that I wouldn’t have the cash to pay for it and would have to run by the bank first. It was against the realization that time was not my ally today. But the thought kept pressing causing me to be disoriented in conversation with my client. Finally I excused myself, grabbed my wallet and walked back outside. The man was gone. It was curious to me how he could have disappeared in the time that it took me to find my wallet and walk back outside the office. But he was nowhere to be seen. I looked around to be certain, and he wasn’t there. Thoughts of this man interrupted me throughout the day and delayed me from sleep that night. Why was this man so heavily on my mind? It took convincing myself that his travel companion had surely found him to let me drift off into sleep that night.
The next morning before I left for work I made sure that I had some single dollars in my wallet. I knew it was unlikely that I would see the man again but I just felt compelled to make sure that I had some extra money on hand.
My day was busy but otherwise uneventful. As I was driving home at around 8 pm I became stuck in traffic. To my right I saw him. A homeless man with a sign that read, “Need Food. God Bless You”. Seeing him brought forth that needling thought again. Surely you are not going to pass by this man after yesterday.
I had the money to give. That wasn’t what was restraining me. It was the traffic and my desire to get home. To give him money I would have to exit off onto the shoulder and pull back around to reach him. Then I would be stalled for no telling how long while I waited for an opening to pull back onto the highway.
As I thought about the inconvenience to steer off onto the shoulder and circle around I noticed the car behind me. The driver of this car, an older model vehicle with dents and peeling paint, pulled out of the line and drove up next to the man who gratefully went to the retrieve the money held outside the window. The traffic line began to move forward and I drove away watching the other car waiting to merge back into traffic while a stream of cars passed by. I thought that it was likely that the driver may not have had the money to give and certainly he neither wanted to be stalled longer by the traffic. But that had not stopped him. He did it anyway.
I had the money to give. I had the time to spare. I chose not to.
I intended to stop the next day, but the man wasn’t there. Later that night while trying to fall asleep the voice of my thoughts spoke. You failed. Twice you had the opportunity to show compassion for your neighbor. Twice you failed the test.
Jesus in the Lord’s prayers recites the line, “and do not put us to the test”. I understand now that God does test our ability to follow his commandments. He tests our willingness to slay our ego and love our neighbors in displays of mercy and compassion.
I haven’t had the opportunity to amend for these transgressions, willingly committed. I can only hope that when, and if, I am tested again I will have the resolve to do what God expects of me.