One recent morning at the gym, I noticed a bunch of people all staring nervously in the same direction. I glanced over and saw an elderly man probably in his early 80’s wearing a swimsuit, shirtless and shoeless, shuffling around like he was either lost or looking for someone. He walked aimlessly while scratching his large belly unaware that everyone was watching him. He was really far away from the pool and definitely out of place, and the discomfort on people’s faces was almost as intriguing as the wandering man. Some wore smirks, trying not to giggle. One woman leaned towards her friend, whispering and pointing with her eyes. I turned my gaze back to the man and, if I am honest, the more I watched him, the more embarrassed I felt for him.
Behind the embarrassment though was sadness. This man was most likely someone’s husband. Or he was at one time. Maybe he was someone’s dad, or grandfather. I know he was someone’s son. But everyone in the gym, including myself, just avoided him or giggled at his expense. I felt a little nudge to go over and ask him if I could help him find someone. I immediately ignored it and pretended to be way too involved in my push-ups. I saw him walk up to the Body Pump class and peer inside the window. I felt the nudge again and then thought, “Please, Lord, don’t make me go over there.” God can be relentless though, so I stopped my push-ups, got up and started walking across the gym towards the man. (Ok, I feel the need to confess that by walking I should probably say trudging…very slowly.)
Mid-stride and three steps later, I watched as a gym employee approached the man. He awkwardly pointed to the man’s feet and then to the locker room, and soon the man reluctantly hobbled towards the locker room, not to be seen again. I have no idea if he found what he was looking for. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to my workout.
I have been thinking a lot about the messages in all this.
First, I am tired of being the observer, tired of always wanting to stay where it is comfortable. It is easier for me to giggle or to talk with my friends or to just avoid discomfort altogether. I often think of ways I want to help or things that I want to confront, but truth be told, I often spend a lot of time just thinking about it. As a friend once said after missing a moment to confront an issue, “My best speeches are in the car on the way home.” I want God to give me the strength to move towards people even when it would be easier to stay right where I am.
The other thought is that while I usually try to avoid walking around the gym half naked, there are parts of my life that do feel vulnerable – struggles I like to keep to myself for fear that my heart might receive the same awkward glances as the old man in his bathing suit. It can be difficult to let people into these deeper places. I have been really blessed with people in my life who love me well. My observations at the gym remind me of one dear friend in particular – one of those rare people who is always willing to enter the brokenness or the vulnerability. She consistently just walks right up to my heart and says, “Can I help you find something?” She has never been afraid of my fears, my struggles or my failures. Not once has she ever told me to “put my shoes on” and leave. It has made all the difference in my heart.
I want to live more like that.
We all have our struggles, our fears, and the things that keep us awake at night. But if we have just one person who is willing to walk into the places where we feel most afraid, isn’t that hope? This challenges me to take more time to listen, to ask more questions, to not only seek my own comfort, but to be more willing to enter difficult places with the people in my life.
I don’t always think it is about saying the perfect words or having all of the answers written out neatly on monogrammed stationery. Sometimes it is just about showing up. My sister illustrates this beautifully with my mom every day. My mom has been struggling with chronic back pain. She can’t move around like she used to and feels frustrated by her slower pace these days. My sister could easily say she is too busy with her job or her kids or her life, but she faithfully comes along side my mom and loves her well. She takes her shopping, drives her at night, lifts heavy things that Mom can’t, and helps in any and every way. She shows up. And while mom’s back pain is still chronic, I can’t help but think that some of her pain must be relieved simply because of my sister’s love.
A willingness to show up….that is my prayer today.