Several months ago, I was riding in the car with my mother when we ended up behind a garbage truck, which had stopped to pick up the refuse of the house around the corner. On our way out of town, we'd both sort of noticed this trash and made a mental note to check back on one particular item. We were too late by less than a minute.
We cringed watching those sanitation workers toss our item - which we could now see plainly was not just any chair, but a cute little rocking chair that needed only a little work - into the back of the truck. Before I could roll down my window to protest, they initiated those giant garbage truck jaws, and we could only sit there and watch this perfectly good chair get crushed into splinters before our very eyes.
As if having the same inner dialogue, we both moaned out loud, looked at each other and said, "I coulda saved that."
I can't help but have a similar thought these days as I'm looking around me at a few persons in particular. (I love the word "persons." Because who wants to be a "people"? - stay tuned later in the week for more about peoples.) I find that in the course of my day, I'm off here or on my way there and very often, I see these people and have a thought. I have a thought that...as Bill Hybels relates in the story of one of Willow Creeks's staffers in his book I'm currently reading (Just Walk Across the Room - a gift from a friend)...I can just see what a totally awesome blessing they'd be if they'd ever let Jesus get a hold on them.
Which is not to say they are not now a blessing. They absolutely are! The persons who weigh most heavily on my heart, at least right now, are those who are oh so close to having this radical presence that will come when and if they can only surrender their goodness to pure good.
Maybe that's a reflection on my own evangelistic confidence, that of course I would be drawn to the persons who are "almost there." But I don't feel like it's the easiest place to pick someone up.
Because let's be honest: the hardest hurdle to get over is the last one. The hardest string on your heart to cut is the one that's just barely still holding your whole mess together. The toughest thing to let go of is the last one you feel like you have.
And it absolutely pains me to see these persons in this stage - so close to surrender, to freedom, to grace, even to simple good. I guess because it makes their burden so painfully clear. Burdens that often, I know well. And know the pain. And know the grip that it has on you. And that thirst for something more that you're scared to death to satisfy but can no longer ignore.
These are persons I see torn, though if you were to flat-out ask them, they would deny it. These are persons who are so achingly hungry for more that at the mere inkling of something holy in the room - a story, a word, a song, a presence - they either erupt in inexplicable anger stemming from their intense sensation of "stuck" or they break down in tears at a burden momentarily lifted through a glimpse of hope.
These are tender moments. These are the times when these persons need their ache to meet the burden of love and just find grace pouring forth. I have to admit that when I have these moments, I too often keep going, making a mental note of these places to come back later. You know, when I'm not busy. When I'm not on my way somewhere. When I have better words to say, a better heart to respond to the moment.
But the moment is fleeting and it burdens me that one day, I may be too late. By even just a minute or less. That I may have to sit there, helpless, as these persons are manhandled by this world and crushed into splinters. That I may have to moan out loud for that agonizingly long minute, then wistfully wave the moment goodbye and mourn,
I coulda saved them.
Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of the ways to meet people in these tender moments. With a hilarious true story about what doesn't work and a heart-touching story of what could have been. Stay tuned.