A crowded train car. The smell of unwashed bodies, soiled babies, over-done teenagers, ethnic foods, and false-scented women assaults him as he eases into his chauffeured ride. Lowering himself onto a smooth, cool seat, he reaches into his backpack in search of his O'Brien novel. He pauses. Something tells him this is not a morning for reading.
An hour earlier, my husband was out for his morning jog, dogs at the heel, clear morning wind sweeping up against sleepy lips and a strong jaw line. In those early hour moments, he raised his voice to his Maker with the same question he poses every day: Wherever you are, God, whatever you're doing, I want to join you. Where can I join you?
Time ~~ a little over a year's worth ~~ and practice are teaching him that the commute to work is more than an hour to kill en route to the office. His reach toward God and His request to be part of what God is doing, moment by moment, wherever we are, has drawn him into a challenging, often uncomfortable, state of awareness of the people around him.
This morning he has that increasingly familiar sense that his book should stay in his backpack. He begins to pay attention to the people surrounding him. Two business women standing in the aisle directly beside him. A mother with an unco-operative, belligerent toddler in the next car over. A twenty-something laborer, sleepy eyes and haggard brow testifying to another long week. An elderly gentleman, unsteady on his feet, wearily nudging his way onto the standing room only train car.
And Bob knows that his out-of-the-boat moment has come. He rises as the elderly man approaches and asks, Excuse me, Sir? Would you like to sit down? He sees the man visibly relax as he smiles gratefully at Bob. And as he's about to claim Bob's seat, Business Woman #1 slips nonchalantly past them and into it.
Bob is taken aback. In years past he would, first, have held his own seat, not giving any thought to anyone around him. He does, after all, have an amazing book to read! In years past, had he attempted to aid an old man with the offer of a seat only to have it scooped up by a self-absorbed woman, he would have blushed uncomfortably, shrugged dismissively at the old guy, and carried on with his day.
But this is not one of those years. This is not one of those times. The book is still in the backpack and there's a God thing going on. Bob turns to the seat thief and says, pointedly, "Excuse me, Ma'am, but I was offering my seat to this man. I think he needs to sit down."
Business Woman #1 is not amused. With a fierce glare directed at Bob, she flounces past him and back into her standing position whereupon she engages Business Woman #2 in a heated and bitter exchange about the arrogance of that man. What a jerk! her glare shouts.
Elderly Gentleman, meanwhile, has gratefully claimed the re-vacated seat.
BW 1 and BW 2 continue to fuss and bother as the train pitches and surges its way along the city track. Bob stands alongside them, uncomfortably aware that these moments of overt kindness are intensely public interactions. There is no getting away from the offended ones and not much comfort from the honored ones. He settles in for the thirty minutes it will take to get from the here of home to the there of the work day.
Downtown. Finally. With backward glares and continued complaints, the two women exit the train. Bob is dejected, frustrated, unsure. He had that God sense; he felt certain. The simple offer of a seat to a man in pain should have been a good thing, but it had deteriorated into a morning start of criticism and rebuke. He wonders if he's getting this God stuff right after all.
The next stop approaches and Old Man rises shakily from the oh-so-offending seat. No words are exchanged. But then, the look of gratitude and respect. As he moves past Bob toward the cars' folding doors he briefly, intentionally grasps Bob's arm and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
Bob is undone as he recounts this story. Undone with the frustration of bumping up, again and again, against the injustice and selfishness of our fellow man. Undone by the uncertainty of following Jesus in these Godless times. Undone with relief that despite the apparent undermining of a small kindness, the tenderness of God was felt.
Sometimes, when we obey God's whisper of direction, we make what we feel are strong connections with people. Can I pray for you? we ask. Let me tell you a bit about my God, we suggest.
Always, when we obey the God whisper, we are touched more deeply than ever we touch. Bob is practicing using his hands, his voice, his feet to put action to something he sees God doing nearby. On this day, his obedience led to God using another person to bring the tenderness of Jesus into his own day.
We are, together, learning to trust the gently urging voice of God that says, "Go. Do." We are learning to trust that although no lives (that we can see) are turning to Jesus, no healing is occurring, no demons are fleeing, we are in the process of learning to obey ~~ and learning to accept that obedience to the one small request is enough. For now.
For now, for today, we are required to listen and to follow. A relinquished seat. A listening ear. A responsive, engaged conversation with a clerk, a banker, a tradesman, a mum, a youth. A five dollar bill slipped into an unknowing pocket. A lifted supplication as we drive past an accident. A silent prayer for the troubled one we see across a crowded street.
For now. Today. That is enough.
Bob is out of the boat.