Monday, November 30, 2009

An example of Providence in my life

I twisted my ankle today, trying to catch the red bus. It wasn’t too bad. At the time, I just hoped nobody saw me trip. On the way back, I also just missed the blue bus; I had to walk 10 minutes in light rain to get back to the dorm. So as I was heading up the North Avenue stairs, a man called to me and asked if I could help him. So I went over, seemingly to his surprise, and asked what I could do. Most of the time someone asks me something in downtown, I ignore them. Why I didn’t do the same thing, God only knows – literally.

I thought he was going to ask me for directions. He asked if I knew the area well, and I told him I knew it fairly well. He told me that I was the first person who had acknowledged him today, which explained the surprised expression on his face. The turn of the conversation surprised me too, as I thought that on any other day I would probably have been one of those people who ignored him. I just replied that it didn’t really make sense nobody would talk to him for a minute.

He then asked if I was in Christ. At first, I thought I misheard him. Actually, I asked him to repeat himself. So doing, I answered that I was. It sort of shocked me to hear him just ask me outright. I had imagined this kind of situation numerous times – someone witnesses to me, I reply that I’m a Christian, we go talk about theology somewhere, and leave feeling in good spirits. The other possibility running through my head was that he wanted to learn about Christ, and that I would have to witness to him. That is a hypothetical which I’ve also thought about several times. What would I say? What would I do?

The look on his face at my reply was one of confused disbelief. He actually asked me if I was really telling the truth. Understandable, I guess. If I were an atheist and I thought I someone was about to witness to me in a public area, I might feel uncomfortable enough to lie. But, as I’m not, and as I wrote notes on Christian epistemology throughout the previous class period (a class which I now only have to attend to get an A, so don’t judge me!), I unpacked my notes and showed him some of the subjects I was reading. I told him I was going through the concept of the Christian canon. Amazed, he looked up and told me he was going to commit suicide before I talked to him.

I imagine I had a sort of deer-in-the-headlights look on my face. What was I supposed to say? The guy was obviously going through some deep emotional trial, and I’m not exactly the kind of guy who deals in emotions. So I did what any person like me would do: I let the guy do all the talking. He said that the bridge overlooking highway-85 had a hole somewhere in it he had thought about jumping through. He kept looking back at the various notes I had written and saying (more to himself than to me): “this is deep stuff.”

I suggested that we should go somewhere to get something to eat or sit down and talk, to which he agreed. This was nearly as much to buy some time to figure out how in the world I would proceed as it was in genuine concern for his safety. As we were walking toward Wingnuts, he said what I was thinking: “I’m not really hungry, can we just sit in here and talk?” (I actually despise Wingnuts, so that suited me.)

I left the man at a table while I went, to the chagrin of the cashier, to order two waters. Sitting down, the man started to open up a bit more about why he was considering suicide. He said that although he had a beautiful wife and nine month old daughter, things were becoming stressful for him. He said that he was an orphan as a child, and never was adopted even though he had asked God for foster parents. He lost his job, and as he committed a crime when he was 22, he said that getting a decent job had been tough. He’d been told he was about to be evicted… on Thanksgiving. He told me that on Thanksgiving – which he did say was a cozy meal – he asked God to reveal Himself, something for which he had apparently been praying for a while. He couldn’t understand why he was suffering. He wasn’t asking for the luxuries that he sometimes sees others endowed with. He was only asking for God to provide for his family. He also didn’t understand why God would allow people to suffer in general. This observation seemed more whimsically philosophical, as though he didn’t expect an answer.

I think at this point he apologized for what he thought was dumping his problems on me. I stopped him quickly and told him that this was a discussion I probably needed as much as he did. Given that I’m not very experienced in relating my own testimony to God’s Providence, I though I should tell him about a recent event in my life that was evidence of God’s plan for me (see here). In response to his question about why bad things seemed to be happening to him, I cited Romans 8:28, which he recalled, as finished the quote with me. I also told him that, since Romans is one of my favorite books, he should also read 9:22-23. Having read about the common objection against Christianity grounded on human suffering, I felt pretty comfortable telling him what I had learned: some people are put in situations of trial for the benefit of others. For example, those who are vessels of wrath enable vessels of mercy to see God’s grace and mercy in a way they could not were there no vessels of wrath. And, while that may be of little comfort to one who is in the situation of trial, when I asked if we deserved the blessings of, say, a good wife and daughter, all he could say was “word.”

When he said that the churches he had been going to weren’t helping him, I figured that since the money I had won for the essay wasn’t really mine anyways, the $80 I gave him for diapers and food (so he said) was the least I could do. He called his wife on my phone to tell her that he got the money, and I heard him say “Thank you? Why are you thanking me?” When he hung up, he said that he realized that she should have been thanking God. It was pretty cool. He’s supposed to call later to find out the information about my church, so please pray that goes well. He kept falling over himself thanking me even as we were getting up to leave, and asking (i.e. defying) me to tell Him that this wasn’t God’s working. Just as my experience writing the essay for the TF contest, there were too many coincidental "might as wells" and "ifs" for me to not recognize that this was God's work. If I hadn't twisted my ankle, I'd have gotten off the bus at a different location than the way which I walked back to the dorm. If I hadn't decided to actually help a guy who asked for it, someone might have died today. If he hadn't gotten discouraged enough to just follow through on his dark thought, he would have never seen God's working. Too many ifs, if you ask me.


Jason said...

Wow! Praise God that he is at work in his creation. Thank you for sharing this.

Ryan said...

We met today, and he told me he found a church that is going to help him get back on his feet a bit. The pastor he and his wife talked to helped him realize that he has to be patient throughout this process, and that he has to ask to receive. Both of these are issues I struggle with, as I'm impatient and like to be - in my own mind - self sufficient. So I got a little chuckle out of that. He starts working for them next week, and plans to attend there regularly. As finding a church he could trust was seemingly an issue the first time we talked, that was encouraging. In the meantime, he sold his furniture and is going to room at a hotel, from which he says he'll call tonight. I helped him out with that, and told him not to worry about paying me back. Just as said he believed God will give back the furniture he gave to him in the first place, I too think that if or when the time comes that I need financial help with school, God will provide. He said he wants me to meet his wife and visit the church, some time, which I said would be great. He thanked me for bringing him back from a precipice, and looked at me seriously and said he believes living is better than dying, that the something he has now is better than nothing, we hugged, and then we parted ways. Please pray for him.

Anonymous said...

This is simply amazing Ryan.
You have the heart of Christ.