I was doing some yard-work yesterday. It was a mellow evening and I was making the most of it. Now, there is a path that runs alongside our garden fence. After I had been out there a while I heard a neighbors' voice coming from the path.
"That's no place to be sleeping!" he said. "What a ridiculous state to get yourself into. Get up and get home. I'm telling you, you'd better not be there when I get back!"
I looked over the fence as the neighbor walked away. There didn't seem to be anyone else there.
Then I looked down. There was a man lying on his back on the path with his eyes closed. I recognized him. I had seen him doing the drunkard's walk along that path on several occasions.
My mind went over the telling off I had just overheard and a little voice in my head said, "Oh, man, that's not what it's about!"
I put my work aside and walked out.
"Do you need some help?" I asked.
He opened his eyes, started to say something, changed his mind and settled for, "Probably."
I took both his hand and pulled him to his feet. He fell down again. I lifted him up again and held him close enough to smell his stinking breath. "Where do you live, pal?"
He told me. It was only a few hundred yards away, but it probably took us forty-five minutes to get there
. At first I tried to let him walk under his own strength with me guiding him but that was getting us nowhere.
Into the bargain, he told me arthritis had shot several of his joints, so he couldn't walk well at the best of times.
It would have been easier to lift him onto my back and carry him, but that would have been a real affront to his dignity. So, I settled for swinging his left arm across my shoulder, holding his left hand with my left hand and grabbing his belt with my right hand. Then we started shuffling along.
Because we were so close he kept tripping over my foot, so I started timing my steps with his and we developed this three-legged walk.
To distract him from his embarrassment I started asking him about himself. He told me his name, what he had worked as, what holidays he had been, how wonderful his grand-daughter was, what his wife's name was - and what a hard time she would give him when he got home!
Several times he shook himself free, thanked me, told me he would take it from there - and fell down. When we reached the end of his street I tried to let him go himself so the neighbors wouldn't see him carried home. He fell down. I did the same at his garden path. He fell down.
It turned out his wife wasn't in. I carried him up his steps, guided his hand as he put the key in the key-hole, and saw him safely into his bedroom.
So, why am I telling this?
Because people sometimes feel they should help if it feels right, if it feels good in their hearts. Everything in my experience told me to avoid this man. As a child a drunk took me to his bedroom. As an adult I saw drink tear families apart. I thought his condition was self-inflicted. I didn't doubt others bore the brunt of his behavior. He smelled, he was unpleasant, the whole thing had the potential to be embarrassing and all that was in it for me was a sore back from the strain of holding him up.
But, to paraphrase the little voice in my head, none of that was what it was all about. "It" is about looking past all that stuff and seeing a soul so very lost in the traps of this world. It was about looking at him or her as someone God loves - regardless of how we feel about them. And handing our best efforts over to the Lord so he can use us to care for them.
If we wait until we feel good about helping before we help then people will go un-helped and we will become the ones who end up walking on by.
Let's not. Let's walk with the ones God loves rather than just the ones we love.