One of the worst and best feelings in the world is knowing God is with you but you can’t feel His presence. You simultaneously feel peace in your knowledge of who He is but you also feel heartbroken because your body doesn’t acknowledge His presence. In my case, I know it’s just my chemical imbalance. I was standing in the middle of a beautiful Chris Tomlin concert surrounded by brothers and sisters worshiping our God yet I felt like I couldn’t join them. I felt like I was faking it. Even with my arms above my head and my voice rising with the others, my heart didn’t feel in it. My head knowledge was firm in the fact of who God is but my heart felt disconnected from the experience. I felt encouraged because one of the most threatening things to the devil is having a believer look around and not feel or see God but knowing He is there with an unshakable faith. I felt firm standing on my belief even though I felt disconnected but it didn’t mean that felt good. There were moments when tears came and I felt like God was closer than before but there were moments when my arms were above my head and I was begging to be lifted up by my Father yet couldn’t see His face close to mine, bending over to embrace me. Luckily my soul came to my rescue and reminded me of how beloved I am. The singers always seemed to know what song I needed and when. They made me laugh with how in sync with God they seemed to be. Even in an arena with thousands of people, I knew my Father saw me. When we left, I felt better but still had a leftover depressed feeling from the wall I felt my chemicals built between God and I. God had gotten through, but there were still a couple bricks.
After the concert, I walked to a local burger place with my friend. We passed a homeless man that didn’t seem to look up as we walked by and joined the line that was spilling out the door. I felt the prick of conviction followed by an argument against God for why I couldn’t go sit outside with this man. God, it’s cold. God, I’m tired. God, I don’t know what to say. God, I’m uncomfortable. God, I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I had all these excuses and tried to convince myself the conviction was from me simply wanting to appear as a hero, it was an act to feed my ego, the list goes on and on and on. After several minutes of the line not moving and the homeless man remaining in my line of sight, the prick only grew. I looked at my friend with a grumble and a sigh; all I got in return was a knowing smile and an offer to hold my purse. I sighed, handed over my purse, shoved my hands into my pockets, and braced myself for the intense cold of the night air. I awkwardly shuffled over to the man who immediately asked me if I had change. Shaking my head, I told him I didn’t have my purse with me. He surprised me by saying that was totally okay and giving me a smile. Normally, I feel guilty but this man didn’t try and press me or make me guilty by giving me big puppy eyes, he simply smiled, eyes dazed and half closed. So I asked if I could sit by him and he delightedly told me yes, absolutely. I plopped myself down on the concrete sidewalk, shivered and observed. This man was wearing a beanie with an american flag on the front, a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, a bright red raincoat, light washed jeans with dirt stains and a rip, and worn tennis shoes. All he had with him were a sleeping bag, a small black backpack and a bag of food that someone that dropped off for him earlier. He appeared like a simple man with not many things to offer to the world. His eyes were half closed and I assumed he was stoned beyond belief and wasn’t sure if any conversation was going to happen. I couldn’t help but question God. What the heck was I doing here? How do I talk to a stoned person? What do I –
“Hi, I’m Chris.”
I blinked several times before I realized the man had reached his hand out to me and introduced himself with a big grin on his face. My hand shook violently as I reached mine out hesitantly. I am a germaphobe. Have I mentioned that? Touching a homeless man nearly made me have a heart attack but once he gripped my hand, I felt the warm, gentle embrace and allowed myself to hold his hand tightly and give him a good shake. Smiling, I felt the walls and my shoulders drop as I introduced myself. He told me it was a pleasure to meet me, I told him it was a pleasure to meet him and I meant it. We began with small talk about the cold weather, the previous night, where he stayed mostly and a brief overview of all of his belongings. I felt brave enough to press for more and soon heard more about Chris’s life.
Chris began drinking around the age of fifteen but didn’t become an alcoholic until he was about nineteen or twenty. He is thirty five now but has the face of an older man with more experience than one would expect. He has been an alcoholic for fifteen years and smokes weed. His best friend is named James and they are homeless together. James has an eleven year old daughter named Nadia and his mother just passed away which is why he was gone. Chris’s sister is named Meagan with extra letters and works as a detective like the kind you see in the movies. He told me that he was gay but wasn’t seeing anybody. After a moment of silence and his eyes wandering around him, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small joint. I have severe asthma and hate the smell of weed but was surprised to find myself feeling no judgment. I was enjoying Chris and wanted to know more about him. After finding out I have severe asthma, Chris thought for a moment and turned around so the smoke would go the opposite direction. He sat with his back to me for several moments until the joint was out occasionally turning around to respond to my comment. I appreciated his efforts even though I was sitting down wind. Tossing the joint aside, he faced me again and we continued talking. Every time some people would walk by and make eye contact with him, he would ask for spare coins. I was surprised that everybody he asked stopped to give him something. One woman said, “God bless”, to which Chris responded positively. This was the bridge I had been looking for. I immediately asked if he was Christian which led me to finding out about his Catholic background. Once that conversation petered out, I asked if I could pray for him out of the blue. He kept his eyes on the ground and nodded. I said a very simple prayer thanking God for this new friendship, Chris, his joy, attitude, I asked for blessings upon Chris, a warm place for him to lay his head, and to never forget that Jesus was walking beside him. As soon as I said amen, Chris reached for my hand, held it tight and asked me to do it again because it was beautiful. He never looked into my eyes during this part but I suddenly had a great desire to hold this man who I had just met. I’m ashamed to say normally, I would walk by without making eye contact and turn my nose up but tonight, I was sitting next to him and we were friends. I scooted myself closer to him, closed the gap, placed my free hand on his arm and allowed him to hold my hand in both of his. As I prayed over him again the same prayer with a couple additional lines, I felt him kiss my hand twice. Instead of feeling disgust, I felt humbled. When I said amen, he immediately told me it was beautiful and thanked me. I didn’t care if people were staring at us talking, I was delighted to be sitting here hand in hand talking to our Father together.
My friend had come out half way through the prayer and I introduced the two. After laughing some more and saying good night, we parted ways. As my friend and I walked away, Chris shouted, “I love you guys”, and I smiled saying, “We love you too”, and meant every word. I had approached Chris thinking I would be serving God and contributing to His kingdom but the truth was, I was the one who had been served. Chris gave me everything he had: his affection and love. He gave me the best gifts he could have given. The simple kisses on my hand humbled me so much I can still feel his gentle lips on my hand as I prayed. I was brought down to my knees since he was willing to share everything with me. I felt like I had nothing to give even though I have physical possessions. This man possesses more riches in his heart than I will ever have. He might have been stoned but the love he had for the world and people around us including me, a stranger, was genuine. I walked away smiling, genuinely hoping to see Chris again. Now I understand what Jesus meant when He said, “What you do for the least of these, you do for Me”.
Chris, if you ever read this, I’m sorry if I got any facts wrong. Just know that you broke through the walls of depression with a gentle kiss on my hand. I felt God’s embrace through your love closer than I did in that arena surrounded by brothers and sisters. I’m not saying I didn’t feel it in the arena, but you made it personal. Thank you. The last few bricks disappeared. You have served me more in our one interaction than I could have asked for. You are richer than you know, Chris. You blessed me with peace. All the coins in the world could never come close to repaying you. Tonight, I will sleep in peace because of you, dear friend, and I will wake up knowing how beloved I am to my father and remember the simple prayer we shared. I thought that prayers had to be eloquent to feel God closer but God’s face was clear in yours, Chris, even as we uttered a couple sentences together. They were more than enough.
Thank you for showing me God’s love for me even without meaning to. I’m sure God loves you enough to overlook the one joint you smoked in front of me, especially since you turned away. My lungs thank you. Next time, I’ll be sure not to sit down wind.