What if He Were Your Father?
When a stranger asked two single women for a ride
An old, scruffy-looking man hobbled over to our car at a gas station near Flagstaff, Arizona. My best friend, Valerie, and I were driving home from the Generation. Youth. Christ. (GYC) convention in Phoenix.
The man asked us to give him a ride to where his truck had broken down. He was carrying a gas can.
I eyed him a bit skeptically, then looked in our back seat, which was stuffed with food and traveling supplies. “Um, I’m not sure we have room,” I began.
The man quickly turned away.
I did feel sorry for him; but I wasn’t sure if I was sorry enough to give him a ride. As a single female I’ve pretty much made it a stipulation never to pick up male hitchhikers, unless there are already men with me in the vehicle. Too many strange things happen these days. So I was uneasy about helping the man, although he didn’t look like he would hurt a flea.
Meanwhile, Valerie, sitting in the driver’s seat, began to prod my conscience. “What if that were your father?” she asked. “Wouldn’t you give him a ride?”
“Don’t manipulate my emotions!” I responded sharply, maybe a bit too sharply. “I don’t give rides to men!”
There was a pause. “I really think we should help him, Mel! He doesn’t look like he could hurt anyone.”
By this time we had pulled away from the gas pumps and were waiting on traffic so that we could pull onto the highway. The old man was crossing the street just in front of us, carrying his gas can. Finally I said, “OK, I’ll clear the back seat. You can stop and pick him up.”
“I’m Having an Asthma Attack”
A few seconds later we pulled alongside the man. We opened the door and he crawled in, painfully it seemed. Then I noticed his breathing, coming in short, tight gasps.
“Are you OK?” Valerie asked him.
“I’m having an asthma attack. I forgot my inhaler in the truck,” he responded between gasps.
Indeed, he looked quite pale; his eyes were filled with fear. Fear that he might not live to get to that inhaler? I didn’t know.
In just a few seconds we pulled up to his broken-down truck. It wasn’t even 500 feet up the road. An elderly woman was waiting. He hopped out of our van and immediately went looking for his inhaler, which was on the front seat. Ahhh, the relief on his face when he put it to his mouth!
I was uneasy about helping the man, although he didn’t look like he would hurt a flea.
As we pulled away, Valerie and I were both silent. Tears began to blind my eyes. Valerie reached over and gently wiped the tears from my cheeks.
“What are you thinking, Mel?” she asked with concern.
Finally I spoke: “I just didn’t realize how hard-hearted I can be sometimes. I’m so not a kind person, at least not like I should be.” Tears continued to flow.
“If we hadn’t stopped and picked up that man, he might have passed out right there beside the road. He was so desperate to get to his inhaler so he could breathe, and I didn’t want to help him.”
“We didn’t know he was having an asthma attack,” Val responded gently.
“I know, but God did. That’s why He picked us to help. We almost missed the opportunity because of my hard-heartedness. At least you were listening to His voice . . .” My voice trailed off.
What made the whole situation even more cutting to my heart was that GYC speakers had offered many powerful messages about reaching out to those in need during the convention. I’d been deeply moved to tears several times as I recommitted to do more for those who are hurting and needy. Many other young people responded similarly. But agreeing with a sermon about helping those in need was not the same as facing a scruffy man on the street with a need.
The reality of the situation, and how we had almost not stepped in during a time of critical need, were on my mind for a while.
Still crying, and looking for reassurance, I texted a friend. “I’m so selfish,” I wrote painfully. “I want to be more kind, like you.”
Although my friend didn’t know why I’d written those words, the response was profound. “All our natural inclinations are of self, Mel. Recognizing that selfishness is even more difficult than overcoming it. We have to recognize it first. But once we do, Jesus helps us overcome it. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Wow, just what I needed.
Thank You, Jesus, I prayed softly. Thank You for helping me wake up today to how horrible of a person I really am when it comes to reaching out to those in need. Help me to be more kind and willing to help those in trouble. I have an aging father, and I hope someone would reach out and help him if he were in need.
Ellen White wrote: “By all that has given us advantage over another—be it education and refinement, nobility of character, Christian training, religious experience—we are in debt to those less favored; and, so far as lies in our power, we are to minister unto them. If we are strong, we are to stay up the hands of the weak.”*
Surprising News From Home
Later that day, with still many miles to cover between our location and home, I called my dad.
“I’m just returning home from the dentist. I had a tooth pulled today,” he told me after our greetings. “However, I made a mistake in calculating mileage, and I ran out of gas. What made it so difficult is that it’s so bitterly cold here in Arkansas. But I’m thankful that someone stopped and gave me a ride to the gas station and back.”
I just didn’t realize how hard-hearted I can be sometimes.
I could hardly talk.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “You ran out of gas beside the road?” As I repeated his words, Valerie’s eyebrows rose with a knowing expression. I knew what she was thinking.
I’m grateful that my dad was taken care of, and was already on the way home by the time I talked to him on the phone. But the lesson we’d just learned with the older man needing a ride was now even more firmly embedded in our mind.
Valerie had asked, “What if that were your father needing a ride?” Unknown to her or me, my father did need a ride. But just as God had sent Val and me to take care of someone else’s father, He sent someone to take care of mine.
Needless to say, I don’t think either one of us will ever forget the old man we picked up beside the road that day, or the lesson God taught us. In fact, looking back now, we wish we’d done more, such as offer to fill his pickup with gas, and maybe give him some food from our liberal supply. He looked as though he could have used it more than we could have.
Going the Second Mile
As we’ve reflected on the situation, we’ve talked about ways we can reach out more effectively and compassionately in the future. Maybe we could put together goodie bags with some nonperishable food items and religious literature that we could easily give to that person standing at the traffic light with a cardboard sign. If our hearts are soft and we are willing, there are many ways we can serve others.
However, the strange coincidence didn’t stop with my father running out of gas. Two days later Valerie’s father was stranded beside the road in the cold, this time with a flat tire. Providentially, someone stopped to give him a ride.
Once again we both realized God was reemphasizing how important it is to be willing to help someone in need.
I’m not advocating that we pick up every hitchhiker out there. As a single woman, I probably still won’t make a habit of picking up old men who ask for a ride, unless God impresses me otherwise. But I am praying that God will help me be more open to reaching out to those in need.
Although we don’t know the background of strangers on the street, every person who is asking for help is someone’s father, mother, brother, sister; and most of all, a child of God.
Jesus’ words about helping others have never been more appropriate: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matt. 25:40).
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 440.
Melody Mason is the author of Daring to Ask for More: Divine Keys to Answered Prayer (2014).