On Monday morning, I was standing at the street corner waiting to get on the bus and head off to a class at the university. When the bus arrived, the doors opened, and I saw a woman in a purple coat standing beside the bus driver. The two of them were engaged in a conversation. I didn't think much of it - people often ask the driver for directions or information. I placed my bus pass on the pad at the front, heard the satisfying "ding" of acceptance, and squeezed past her. The purple lady followed me to my seat and asked if I had change for 5 dollars. I replied in the negative, because I knew pretty much what was in my wallet, but she looked so desperate that I decided to took a look just to check.
When I opened up my change pocket, I could immediately see that I did not have 5 dollars in change, but I did have $2.75, which was the exact cost of a bus fare. I pulled out the coins and handed them to the lady. She offered me the 5 dollar bill, but I refused, saying that I was not giving her change for $5; she could just take the fare and use it. It was a gift. She reluctantly did so, bought a ticket, and with obvious relief, sat down across the aisle with her young daughter. I smiled at them, glad I could help out, and opened up my book to do some reading.
When we got to the subway station to make a transfer, the woman in purple approached me, offering to go to a corner store to get change and pay me back. I said that was unnecessary; it had been my pleasure and I was happy to help. I hoped that someone would do the same for me if I was in her situation. She again offered her thanks as we entered the subway station, and then we went our separate ways. I got on my usual subway car, pulled out my book to continue reading, and the train left the station.
At the next stop the doors opened, and suddenly, the lady in the purple coat and her daughter were beside me, and she was pressing some money into my hand. The woman explained that she was taking her daughter to a dentist appointment, and if I had not given her the coins for a bus fare, she would have had to get off the bus and they would have missed the appointment. She expressed her thanks again and I just sat there, somewhat speechless. I couldn't believe that she had tracked me down just to give me $2.75. I looked at the money in my hand and felt very rich.
I was reminded of the story of Peter and John going to the temple to pray (Acts 3), and coming across a lame man who asked them for money. The two men responded that they didn't have money, but they had something else to offer the beggar. There are many times when people ask me for something and I don't have it. More often than not, however, I have something else to offer them; something that they need or can use. I believe we are often too polite or perhaps unaware to ask for what we really need. Instead, we ask for what is socially acceptable or what we believe people would be willing to give. The woman on the bus didn't need change for 5 dollars - she needed to pay the bus fare, and I could do that for her. I was glad to do that for her.
I know this happens when I talk to God. I am often unaware of what I truly need, so I blather on about needing to making change for a 5 dollar bill or some other deal where I give God 'A' and then hopefully, God gives me 'B.' Too many times I don't ask for what I really need because it would be quite embarrasing and humbling. Sigh. I am very thankful that the Spirit prays on my behalf at times like these, which is pretty much always (Romans 8:26).
Let me learn to give what I have instead of being restricted to giving what people ask for. Let me learn to ask for what I really need. And let me be open to receive something other than what I asked for.
This is a photo of the book I was reading on Monday and coins for a bus fare.