Directions from a Stranger

On this day that I received directions from a stranger, I was not expecting it. Then again, I don’t think we expect directions from a stranger unless we ask for them. I did not ask for these directions that were given to me. But God has a funny way of speaking to us when we least expect it.

I was walking from my office to my car, which was parked a few blocks down. I had left a proof of certification in my car that I needed for work. So, during my lunch break, I decided to go grab it. Walking in downtown Columbus is normal for me, now. I am downtown every Friday working with my organization in leadership and development training. These sessions, while helpful, begin to grow mundane after weeks and weeks of day-long team builders. I love my team, but after awhile, I’ve had enough.

But after an encounter I had with a stranger at the crosswalk, the day shifted. I was walking to my car and I approached a stop walk — my car was in the lot across the street from a new bar called Pins (if you’re a Columbus native and consider yourself a hipster, this place is for you). As I was waiting to cross the street, the man standing next to me looked up at me. We had been standing together for a few seconds, a short amount of time. I had not noticed that he might have been “down and out” until after our exchange.

“Can you do me a favor?” I heard the man ask through a soft but sweet murmur.

I turned to him and answered ‘yes’ with my soft smile. Then three unexpected words violently hauled out of his mouth in a still, soft voice: “Go to hell.”

Excuse me? I know, I was appalled too. But the impeccable timing of the walk sign allowed this man to stroll away with his bag that, I had then noticed, was a trash bag full of something. I then realized his unkept beard and his tattered hoodie sweatshirt. All of this had gone unnoticed to me until after our interaction. And just like that, this stranger had come and gone like the wind. What an interesting moment in my life, this divine appointment. Yes, it is a strange way to describe this encounter in my life but I’ll tell you why I believe it was indeed divine.

I was offended, at first. What kind of stranger had the audacity to turn to me on the side of the road — during my lunch break — and command me where to go? Sir, I will go wherever I want to go and I do believe that ‘hell’ is not that place. But shortly after, my anger subsided to pity as I noticed that the man seemed to be struggling. The point of this story is not to identify my theory about homelessness and how to solve the issue. Nor is it to indulge you about some sort of self-absorption that seems so prevalent in our culture when we compare ourselves to the less-fortunate people around us. I saw this man as a man before I was caught in the wake of him expressing his frustration with life. The point of this story is to invite you into a joyful thing that I was reminded about later that evening when I was reflecting back on this exchange.

Something peculiar and delightful was brought to my attention that night. I was hurt and feeling empathetic towards the stranger that had spoken three words to me earlier that day. Whatever he has experienced in life, I have chosen to believe, he was not intended or designed to experience. But for whatever reason, this man was hurt. He was full of hate and I just happened to be standing in the wake of his release. But what I was reminded of because of that encounter is that darkness cannot stand to be near light. Now, I don’t know this man and I have no intention of claiming him to be darkness. But I can say that it might have been his past experience that sprouted anger in his heart and that expressed itself as darkness in that moment. And right then and there, the darkness acknowledged the nearby light. The darkness wanted to defend itself and then run away.

Hear me on this, before you take this the wrong way: I am not identifying myself as the light that his man’s darkness wanted to rip apart and cower from. I am calling attention to God’s Spirit that dwells in those who call him ‘Dad.”

The joy was not realizing that there is darkness in the world, and in those who might have experienced pain or hurt. The joy does not come from me believing my circumstances are “better” than this mans because we are all on the same playing field as far as our condition of evil. On the contrary, that is most certainly discouraging. My heart longs to see those who have been dismantled by society, circumstance, and/or evil to be brought to justice and healed.

The joy comes from knowing that those who have invited Jesus into their hearts carry his Spirit — that is the light — with them wherever they go.

The hate and evil of the world is so intimidated by God’s perfect, loving Spirit that it has to attempt to defend itself and flee. Yes, God cares for that man and God’s heart to heal and redeem his life is the same as his heart for you and me. But this moment reminded me that for those who call on the name of the Lord, there is victory.

I’ve been faced with the idea to see daily experiences as teaching points to learn more about God’s character. And, you know what? The more I learn about God’s character, the more I fall in love with him.