Serving in the Suburbs
Rushing out of my local grocery store parking lot, I check my watch. I'm running late; I have 5 minutes to drive a distance that requires 15. While calculating whether I can make it through a yellow light, I spot a thin, weathered man standing on the median. Without enough time to accelerate past or enough space to switch lanes, I reluctantly pull up beside him.
Before I even read his cardboard sign, my pulse quickens with trepidation. Should I look at him? Should I roll down the window? Should I offer him food? No matter what response I choose, I'm uncomfortable with the whole situation. Yet I'm beginning to suspect my discomfort may be a sort of holy invitation.
Like many middle-class, suburban women, I'm often insulated from a world in need. When famine strikes in Africa, my supermarket's shelves remain stocked. When chaos erupts in the Middle East, my neighborhood stays secure. When floodwaters rise in New Orleans, my home keeps dry. Without concerted effort, the closest I may ever get to a needy person is the unsettling intrusion of the man on the median.
Still, I hunger to share Christ's care with those he loves. Jesus challenged his disciples, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). Because Jesus responded to his Father's voice, God more than likely directed Jesus' gaze toward individuals in need of his merciful touch. We imitate Jesus when we, too, notice the needs around us, respond with compassionate action, and foster a genuine connection. Here's how to do these things in your neighborhood.
A large crowd was gathered in front of the local Catholic Social Services office when my children and I drove by on the way to school one morning. I explained to my kids people were lined up to get help paying their rent. A little five-year-old voice piped up from the backseat, "Can we pray for dem?" My son's heart, sensitive to the Spirit's nudge, responded to others' needs.
"Most people dismiss these promptings as foolish," explains Bruce Main, author of Holy Hunches: Responding to the Promptings of God. Main calls these inner cues "holy impulses" or "divine hunches." Main explains, "What actually moves people into acts of service, acts of justice, acts of compassion, is this intuitive sense" that prompts five-year-old lips to pray for the poor while hurrying off to school. Main underscores, "It is not enough to have our hearts fill with compassion or empathy for others. We really need to convert these feelings into an appropriate response." Our faithful response springs from noticing what moves God's heart.