I was doing my teenage Uber driving duties and thinking about all the parenting advice that encourages parents to talk to children in the car. After all, they are a captive audience, don’t have to make eye contact (because God forbid, we have any of that), and both parent and child are physically restrained — that might not have been among the reasons listed, but it does seem worth noting. We were on the return portion of our journey into silence and I was lamenting the misery of it, when I looked out of the car window and saw a man sitting on a bus stop talking to himself. Our eyes met and for a moment he silenced.
He was smoking a cigarette in the mid-day Florida heat. I checked the temperature on my dash and it read 98 degrees. I considered my relative comfort in the air-conditioned car and the ice cream in my freezer I planned to eat when I got home as a consolation from both the heat and the unwelcome hush of angst that tormented my drive. I envisioned the smoking man in the intolerable heat, sitting in solace, speaking to himself. I thought of that moment our eyes met and how for the first time that day I felt seen. It mattered not to me what I was seen as or how I might have looked or what he might have thought of me. The moment reminded me of the universality of God’s mercy at a time when I felt somewhat desperate for connection. I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me, but through him, I saw a reminder that suffering is not the only thing that is universal, God’s mercy is too.
While I consider my circumstances are likely better than his – the reality was at that moment, I felt as miserable as I perceived him to be. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others. We have standardized what we consider justifiable levels of loneliness, pain, emptiness, and grief and if it doesn’t fall on the spectrum of horror or woe that we heard on the latest podcast then we feel like we need to buck up and go write in our gratitude journals. Before I understood the mercy of God, I would have thought the same thing. There were so many times that the pain and challenges in my life became a wedge in my relationship with God because I didn’t think I had the right to seek his mercy. I didn’t bring God what appeared to be trivial and trite by the world’s definition of suffering because it felt too small and I had been given too much. The problem with that thinking is that it separates us from God and from the mercy that heals, comforts, and forgives the wounds in our heart. We may not be worthy of God’s mercy, or deserve it. Regardless, it pours out of him – a gift of unfathomable consolation that we choose whether to accept.
Indeed, I will write in my gratitude journal about how thankful I am for a stranger sitting on a bus stop, smoking a cigarette, talking to himself, in the oven-like heat, who met my eye in the emptiness of driving a sullen teen. He reminded me that in the silent loneliness that enveloped me the way the oppressive heat did him, there was mercy. Not through any relief from our differing circumstances but by a moment of pause to acknowledge the inexhaustible fountain of God’s mercy that refreshes and redeems no matter the temperature outside or the pained silence inside. That’s a lot more reassuring than even having a restrained teenager in the passenger seat.
Copyright 2019 Lara Patangan