“Love does not give money, it gives itself. If it gives itself first and a lot of money too, that is all the better. But first it must sacrifice itself.” ~ Thomas Merton
A little over a week ago, I took a road trip to California. I was going to help lead a training retreat for advanced coaches. I was going by car because I absolutely love road trips. For me there’s nothing quite so satisfying as driving a long stretch of uncharted road under a grand and open sky with the beauty of the natural world floating past you. I call it the Epiphinator, ‘cause of all the insights and clarity that typically come to me when I get immersed in landscapes like that.
However, as much as I love road trips, on this particular morning as I prepared to hit the road I was definitely not happy. Nothing had gone right so far that day. I couldn’t find my socks. A random piece of furniture snagged my shorts and tore them. I spilled coffee on my shirt. I kept forgetting to get stuff I needed, so had to go back into the same rooms a dozen times or more collecting stuff. By the time I got everything loaded and got in the car, I was already furious at everything and nothing in particular. As I pulled out of my drive, I saw the trash can I had left out by the road…so out of the car I went to haul it back to the garage, mumbling as I walked.
When I finally got on the road, I was determined to turn things around. I needed gas, and I needed a car wash (my car was coated in a thick veneer of dust, an unavoidable effect of living on a dirt road). I remembered there was a gas station right by the interstate, and it had a car wash right next door. Excellent! Just a few more tasks, and I could relax on the open road.
When I got to the gas station, it was out of gas. Seriously. No gas. I actually laughed at the incredulity of it. I mean, what are the odds? The next available gas station was a town away, about 20 miles up the interstate. I had a little more than a quarter tank so I thought screw it I’ll just get some gas there instead.
As for the car wash, it was open for business, but there were eight cars waiting in line for a wash. EIGHT. (I counted, bitterly.) Did I mention it was a Thursday morning? Not the weekend. This shouldn’t be happening. But whatever, I’ll just get on the on the road and find a car wash later.
So I got back in the car and hopped on the freeway. I told myself hey it’s not my ideal beginning but so what? I tried to talk myself down, but the truth of it was I was seriously put out by this point, and equally annoyed at myself for being so annoyed at all. First world problems and all that.
Everything went great for the next 10 miles, right up until I hit the traffic jam. Yep. Traffic jam. Nothing but solid red brake lights for miles. Are you kidding me?! This was beyond ridiculous. I honestly couldn’t believe it. For the next 45 minutes I shuffled along at five miles per hour, getting more angry and impatient with every tap on the brakes.
Finally I reached the first exit for the next town. I sped off that freeway like a bullet from an angry gun. By that point I was furious, and had only one thing on my mind: Get some gas, get my car washed, and get out of this madness as quickly as possible.
There was construction all around the gas station so it took three tries to find my way to the pump (I kid you not). But finally, finally, I got the stinkin’ nozzle into the stinkin’ gas tank, and took a breath to celebrate my hard won victory.
That’s when this guy walked up.
“I’m not asking for money,” was the first thing he said, his hand held up as if in surrender. “My wife and I broke down about 5 miles back on the interstate. I finally managed to catch a ride into town about 3 hours ago so I could buy a part to fix my car, and I’ve been trying to get a ride back to my car ever since. I really need a ride. This trip has been hell for us. Could you give us a ride? It’s just 5 miles up the road.”
Was this guy for real? And why me? There were half a dozen other people standing at their pumps. But he makes a B-line straight for me. I may look like a nice guy, but I was in no mood.
“Where do you need to go?” I asked, a little too abruptly.
“Back east, just a few exits back.”
I sighed. “Look man, there’s nothing but solid cars back that way. I’ve just been sitting in that for an hour. I could get you back to your car quick enough, but then I’d be sitting in that same traffic for another hour. I can’t afford to do that. I’m headed west.”
This time, he sighed. “Look, I really need the help. I could tell you more about how rough this trip has been for us, but…”
“I want to help you, but I can’t go back that way. I need to head west.”
In the end, I tossed the guy twenty bucks as a consolation prize. As I drove away, I saw him standing there next to his wife outside the gas station. They had a small dog.
Three hours later, when I was finally calm enough to pray about what had happened, I asked God if there was anything He wanted to say to me about it.
All he said was this: “Much good is missed by being in a hurry.” And then he quoted the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. I’ll quote it here so the point is as clear to you as it was to me…
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
I blew it that day. I had an opportunity to show mercy and I didn’t do it. Was the guy scamming me? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think it matters, really. The lesson for me is still the same. Much good is missed by being in a hurry.
So here’s my encouragement today, for myself and all of us:
Slow down. Pay attention. Somebody around you needs some mercy today. Be the one to give it.