This year Teens Opposing Poverty celebrates 30 years of ministry! As part of that celebration, we will share stories and insights that have helped to shape us. Here is one from 2011.
Even when you devote your life to serving the poor, your priorities at times get skewed. The true story that follows is in part a confession, but it’s also a lesson I learned: Never sacrifice the important things on the altar of the urgent.
My cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and debated whether or not I would answer it. It was the day before Easter. My wife, daughter and I were having dinner with my parents and I really didn’t want to be bothered. But for some reason I still can’t fathom, I answered it.
The woman on the other end identified herself as Elizabeth. She said that she and her husband lived on a fixed income and that they were almost out of food. It was near the end of the month so the timing was right for a request like that.
I’d like to say that my heart was filled with compassion for her at the moment, but it wasn’t. In my role as the director of a ministry that works with homeless and poor people I get calls like this all the time, so I selfishly resented the intrusion on my family time and told her I would help her on Monday just to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
Come Monday morning, I walked into my office overwhelmed by my “do list” with almost everything on it screaming “URGENT!” at me. I rolled up my sleeves and dug in, hoping I could cross off at least a few things by the end of the day. Right about the time I found my “groove” on a writing project, my phone rang. It was Elizabeth. I let it roll over to voice mail and forgot about it for a few hours.
After lunch I checked my messages. Sure enough, Elizabeth asked me to call her back as soon as possible. Once again, I have to confess, my heart was not brimming over with compassion. All I could think about was how much I had to do and how I really didn’t have the time to gather the food and drive ½ hour to Winchester to deliver it. By the time I did everything, I knew I would lose nearly 2 hours out of my day.
I wished I hadn’t told her I would take her the food, but I said I would and, since I believe that integrity is a dying virtue in our culture, I was determined to make good on my word. I left work 20 minutes earlier than normal to take my daughter, Lindsey, to ballet practice so I would have time to get the food from the outreach pantry at my church. Having her help pack the bags saved at least a little time.
I dropped Lindsey off at ballet and headed to Winchester, hoping to arrive by 5 pm. When I got close to the address she gave me, I called Elizabeth. As I parked my truck along the street I could see an elderly woman standing at the door, waiting. I grabbed the groceries thinking, “This is going to be quick.” There was so much work to do.
Elizabeth held the door open as I approached. She was less than 5 feet tall and looked even smaller because of her stooped shoulders. Her husband was sitting on the couch of their cluttered-but-clean living room. He looked at me and nodded, but said nothing.
I set the grocery bags down. Elizabeth thanked me and told me they had not eaten all day. Ah, there was the compassion, along with a healthy conviction about my misplaced priorities. Someone was hungry. I should have made getting food to them my first task of the day, not the last.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t in so much of a hurry. We chatted awhile. After a few minutes her husband joined in the conversation, although he still didn’t move. As we talked, I learned that on their meager income they not only had to care for themselves but their two grandchildren as well. The end of the month was always hard for them.
I didn’t stay too long. I knew they were hungry.
For the life of me, I can’t remember any of the other urgent tasks that faced me that day. All I remember is that I was blessed with the opportunity to take food to somebody who was hungry. I guess that’s all that was worth remembering.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Gal 6:9 (NKJV)
Here’s to not growing weary.
God’s grace to you,