I spend a significant amount of most of my days in the family minivan. Four kids—none of whom are old enough to drive themselves—require hours of shuttling around town. So I find various ways to entertain and distract myself during those trips to and from practice, school, church, the grocery store, etc.
The most fun (as well as creepiest and stalker-recommended) distraction is to people-watch at red lights. The best opportunity for this is when I’m at the front of the line and cars are turning left into the lane next to me. In this way, these drivers come (often uncomfortably) close to my car and I can see their faces straight on.
Some people are talking on the phone. Some are singing. Every once in a while, I’ll see a mom give her kids in the backseat and rearview mirror scolding. Most people are indifferent. In other words, if you were going to draw a smiley face representing their expressions, the mouth would be a straight line.
99% of the people who drive past me are strangers. Considering that this is Murfreesboro, if we stopped and talked we could possibly find common acquaintances with just a few degrees of separation, but these are mostly unknown faces. Strangely, it always amazes me there could be so many people in this world that I will never know, not their names or their birthdays or their favorite food.
When I see these strangers pass by me with their pokerfaced expressions, I often wonder what their lives are like. Do they live alone? Do they like their jobs? Do they wish they spent their days and nights differently? In those handful of seconds when their cars are a few feet away from mine, I look into their eyes and ponder what parts joy and agony they feel on a daily basis.
It can be an exhausting exercise to try to care about every motorist that comes within 10 feet of me. Even more exhausting when I take into account that these souls make up only a tiny percentage of the world’s 7.4 billion population. How do we love them all? How do we exist on a planet with so much suffering and chaos and attempt to care about so many strangers?
In such a moment of disquiet and defeat, I look to how Jesus instructed those around him. When a teacher of the law tried to stump Jesus with a question about eternal life, Jesus had the teacher quoting Leviticus. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” the man replied, confident he was getting the answer right. Then the man asked, “So who is my neighbor?”
At this point, Jesus lays out the story of the Good Samaritan. He tells of the traveler who is beaten and robbed and left to die on the road. Then Jesus tells of the men who didn’t stop to help even though they would say that they understand God’s teachings the best. Then the despised Samaritan rides by. Though most likely considered unclean and unwanted by the beaten man, the Samaritan stops and helps him, dressing his wounds and taking him to a place where he can heal. Jesus finishes his story with a question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The teacher had no choice but to give Jesus the answer he was looking for. “The one who had mercy on him.”
My goal for this year is to love the ones whose paths cross mine. That may mean the paths in a 5-mile radius of my home or the Lord may put a burning desire on my heart to widen my path’s reach to a greater distance. Either way, I will try to be available to show mercy where He directs me. I will try not to be one who can walk past suffering, untouched.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
-Edward Everett Hale