Recently I went to the market to purchase a few things for the evening. In the parking lot I was asked by a homeless person for some money, he needed some food apparently. Now usually I have a rule that I give something when asked. It is just a small practice in my life. However this time for, some reason, I didn’t like the look and feel of this person. My words were “no, I’m going to pass tonight,” and walked off into the store. Focused on my own task I was hurried and I missed an opportunity to practice compassion. I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about developing compassion in my life. Apparently it hasn’t yet translated into practice.
Opportunity two followed closely. Just finishing my transaction at the self-checkout, the lady next to me with four food items on the counter said, “would you buy these things for me?” I responded so quickly it startled even me, “no, why should I?” As it turned out, she was an acquaintance that took this opportunity to tease me. I was so aware of my rapid, automatic negative response that our resulting conversation felt awkward and wooden.
As I reflected on these experiences, I realized I was neither fully present nor acting out of expectancy. I mean we are in the Advent season after all. A season of waiting expectantly, watching for the unusual to present itself. I am expecting the baby Jesus to come, but when He does I don’t recognize Him because he doesn’t “look quite right.” He asks me if I have room in my heart and I all too quickly say no.
It sounds like I am beating myself up and maybe I am a little bit. But actually I hear Jesus invite me, ever so gently, to stay the course of growing in the likeness of Jesus. Jesus assures me I will again have an opportunity to practice what Christ is forming in me. And I will stay the course, because deep down I desire to have a disposition of presence, generosity, and compassion, to not be so distracted that I miss the opportunity to engage the person before me in a soulful manner. It was Mother Teresa who suggested encounters like this just might be Jesus Himself, “in a most distressing disguise.”