I am 16 days away from moving back onto the island of Montreal. In the last few years, almost despite myself, I have developed a strange love for this city and her inhabitants. Quite unnatural, really. Last night as part of our home group session on taking risks in areas that we have had bad experiences in, we were wandering the streets on the lookout for anyone that we could connect with and show some love to. We started out at Second Cup but soon realised that everyone was in their own little world: on their laptops, reading, or talking intimately with a group of friends. Not much of a place to connect. So we headed out down Parc Avenue to see whom we would meet. The streets were pretty empty and as we walked on, I felt this love grow big inside me and I yelled out some spontaneous thanks and prayers to God to bless this place. Yes, we were on our way to changing the world, I could feel it.
On the way back up Parc to fetch my car, my friend and I came upon a lady with several large and heavy bags. One was on her back and she was straining to carry the other two up the slight incline. We both stopped and offered to help her carry these items, our hands ready to grasp the handles and haul. But the lady was not that interested in our help. She politely refused, we asked again, and she refused with a shake of her head. She really did not want our help. So we walked on, puzzled and sure that she really DID need our help.
We glanced back and saw that the lady had dropped both bags on the sidewalk and was leaning over with her hands on her knees. Hardly the stance of someone managing nicely. My friend noted that this was not as it should be, so we did an about face and headed back to the burdened soul. We again offered our assistance and at this point, the lady became less polite. In no uncertain terms she let us know that our persistence was wearing on her patience and that she would really prefer us to move on and leave her alone. I tried one more time to make conversation but a glare stopped me. We got the point and walked away.
This event made me sad. Not just sad, I was hurt in some way, pained at the refusal, and conflicted over the inability for us to give help when it was so obviously needed. I could not understand the NO. I do not know what the lady's story was, perhaps she had been a victim of a robbery at some point and was wary of strangers, lovey and soft-spoken as they might be. Perhaps she was an independent loner. Perhaps she was carrying valuable possessions and did not want to entrust them to any other hands. I do not know, but I do know that her insistence on carrying her own burdens was the wrong choice.
Other people from our group also mentioned that it was hard to connect to anyone that evening. It was like the people of the city had established their own little personal safety zone and did not want to move from it, especially not to have an encounter with a stranger. What confused me and tore at my heart was that I finally have some compassion for the people I see in this city and they don't seem to care. They don't want me nor my little offers of help. They don't want anyone intruding in their lives.
Earlier that evening we had read from Hebrews 13: I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you...God is there, ready to help. Yes, God is ready to help, but often, like the lady on Parc Ave., I insist on doing this myself, on carrying my burdens and the weight of situations on my own back. I refuse to let God or anyone else in, and I suffer and grow tired as nothing much changes. I say NO over and over again to the help that comes in strange clothing.
I wept for the lady with the bags. I cried out for God to soften her heart and heal her wounded soul. I cried out for my heart not to lose its compassion in the face of rejection, and I asked that when I see Jesus on this road I am on, offering to help me, that I not refuse his hand.
This is a street in St. John, New Brunswick.