Photo by Glen Alan Woods
For the last couple of weeks I have used mass transit to commute to work and run errands. I’m learning lessons that are not quite so easily accessed in the comfort and convenience of my own vehicle and home. With my car in the shop, it’s amazing how patient and resourceful I can become when the need presses me. My vehicle is old. It has done well for me for eleven years. But time exacts a toll on machinery in the form of wear. It also provides opportunity for me to hear God in ways I otherwise might miss.
Inconvenience gets our attention, attuning us to hear and see in new ways. In American culture we often equate God’s voice and approval with our provision and comfort. But what if pain is the only way for his message to penetrate a hard, calloused heart? Or what if inconvenience is the most effective means by which we might notice what God is saying or feel what prompts his heart to compassion, or even anger?
On the trains and busses I use to make my way throughout the greater metro area, I share space with fellow commuters. They are young, old, athletic, disabled, male, female, working class like myself or homeless. Some are affluent, but they usually are only found in the downtown core. Most struggle to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, if in fact they get one at all.
There are loud people, but most keep to themselves in quiet wonder over their devices. Some sleep, some stare off into space.
In this slower pace, patterns emerge. Observations, too. It’s hard to transport groceries without a car. Both of my paper bags disintegrated in the freezing rain this afternoon, causing me to think fast and get creative. Another bus passenger offered to help me, even though it wasn’t his stop. I almost took him up on it, but I managed to handle things myself. Yea, I know. Stubborn independent streak flares up again. Only after the bus left did I fully appreciate the young man’s offer and the sacrifice it represented.
The little things matter when navigating community among groups of traveling strangers. A smile. An offer to give up your seat to a mother and child. Answering a question for a new transit rider who is confused by the system. Doing life with people as a full co-equal participant.
I long have asked God to provide me opportunities for this very thing on a daily basis throughout my days. He is reminding me that they always have existed. It has taken a minor vehicular inconvenience for me to develop refreshed awareness of what he is doing, where he is moving, what he may be saying, and how I might better become his hands, his feet, his voice to a world staring off into space while self-medicating their secret pain through iTunes and private thoughts.
It also gives me heightened empathy for those who live outdoors. Although I’ve had deep compassion for the homeless for much of my life, sharing even a tiny part of their pain through extended time in inclement weather motivates me all the more to do what I can to help alleviate their suffering. I was finally able to come inside out of the cold. Many of them do not have that option.
This has to change. I have to change. I wonder if I would have noticed that if I had continued enjoying the convenience of a car and limited exposure to the cold?
What about you? What is God saying to you through your daily inconveniences or pain?