Even as we do our best to follow Jesus, our walk with God is not always without problems.
Sometimes we make mistakes.
Sometimes we make HUGE mistakes and suffer for them.
I made one of those mistakes about 15 years ago. I didn’t turn my back on God, but I did drift from him. I was tempted, I fell, and I suffered accordingly. Part of that suffering was a stint of homelessness. It happened in summer and early fall, so for a time I fooled myself into believing that I was “camping”, but I was definitely homeless. I was also unemployed, so I was penniless on top of being homeless on top of being slightly estranged from God. This was not a good place for a born-again believer to be, but there I was.
One day in late September, I was cycling along a lonely stretch of highway on the outskirts of Toronto. It was coming onto suppertime, but I had no money for food, so I tried not to think about supper. I also tried not to think about where I would sleep that night. The evenings were getting dark earlier and the overnight temperatures were plunging down to the point where I could see my breath at dawn. I didn’t have any cold-weather clothing and I was too proud to beg for money to buy any, so I just tried to keep moving all night or hang out at 24-hour donut shops. Not much of a life, but it was what I had brought on myself and I couldn’t see a way out of it at that point.
The day was cloudy and almost cold. For the past few weeks, a deep sadness would take hold of me late in the afternoons when I remembered I had no place to sleep. That afternoon was no exception. Maybe because of the storm clouds overhead or the chill in the air or the cumulative effect of not eating or sleeping properly for months – whatever it was, the sadness was particularly sharp that day, and all of a sudden a huge wave of grief overwhelmed me and I started to sob.
I had to pull over to the side of the road because I couldn’t breathe or see through my tears. I dropped my bike onto the gravel and then dropped down beside it and bawled my eyes out, face-down on the sharp rocks. I hadn’t cried for years, not since I was born again. I could hear the cars whooshing by a few inches from my face, but I didn’t care. I cried and cried and cried and cried.
When my sobs lessened a bit, I heard a woman’s voice saying: “Are you OK?” I looked up and saw a kindly face peering out at me through a car window. The car had pulled up beside me, but I hadn’t noticed it. The woman asked again: “Are you OK?”
I bobbed my head half “no” and half “yes” and tried to smile and pull myself together as much as I could. I sat up and wiped the mess that was my face and struggled to my feet. As I was doing this, the woman got out of her car and walked towards me. That’s when she said: “I was driving on the other side of the road and I saw you lying there. I was going to keep driving but I heard a voice telling me to turn around and go back to you and give you money. The voice also told me to tell you that I’d heard the voice. I don’t know if it was God but I know it was a voice telling me to go back to you and give you money. All I have is 20 dollars, but it’s yours”, and she stretched out a crumpled $20 bill towards me.
I stared at her, not knowing what to say, and then I started crying again. But this time was different. The lady started crying, too, and we both stood on the side of the road, hugging and bawling our eyes out.
In between sobs, the woman would say things like “I’m sorry this is happening to you”, and I would say “It’s my fault, I had it coming”, and then we’d cry some more.
As our sobs finally started to subside, the woman asked me if there was anything she could do for me, and I told her no, she’d done enough, and I thanked her. Sniffling, she climbed back into her car and slowly drove away. I stood there for a few more minutes, composing myself, and then I got back on my bike and cycled up the road a few kilometres to Tim Horton’s for a big bowl of chicken noodle soup, a couple of buttered tea biscuits, a pot of hot sweet tea, and some timbits. I hadn’t eaten that much food all at once in months.
A couple of days later, I swallowed my pride and hitchhiked halfway across the country to my parents’ place in Halifax, where I ended up staying for the winter while they were in Florida.
I also started working again.
I have not been estranged from God since that time, and I hope never to be estranged from him again. I still make mistakes, but I know now that the first thing to do when I make a mistake is to run TO God, not from him.
I think of that kind lady every now and then. I’ll probably never see her again in this life, but maybe in the next I will. If you feel so inclined, please say a prayer for her in remembrance of her kindness and her obedience to God.
And please also say a prayer for my poor long-suffering parents.