The other day I was on my way to pick up Sean from school when I saw a man bent over on the sidewalk. That is not something you see around here everyday, so it caught my eye and I slowed to see what was going on. And I couldn’t quite tell.
I couldn’t tell if he was having a heart attack and had dropped to his knees. I couldn’t tell if he had been jogging and was winded. I couldn’t tell if he had stopped to examine a bug or perhaps he had just stopped to tie his shoes. But something about it sent my antennae up. Something was not quite right.
But I was running late as usual, so I didn’t stop. After I retrieved my child from school, I circled back to see if he was still there. He was, so I slowed and rolled down my window.
“You doin’ okay?” I called towards him from a safe distance.
He looked up, surprised.
“Yeah,” he sighed. Then, “No. Not really. I’m having a really bad day.” He sounded tired, not so much in body but in spirit. A fatigued spirit is the worst kind of tired; no amount of sleep or vitamins can restore a weary soul.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said sympathetically and empathetically. I’ve had a few days in my life where I’ve wanted to collapse in a heap on the sidewalk and cry.
“You wouldn’t have a cigarette, would you?” he asked from the sidewalk.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” I said.
I look in my rear view mirror. I can see Sean looking at the man through his rolled up window. He is taking it all in with curiosity as though he is watching a movie waiting to see what will happen in the next scene.
Without any cigarettes, I could see that there wasn’t much beyond sympathy I could offer him, so I promised that I would send up a prayer for him.
Offering to pray for someone is a risky thing, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t do a whole lot of that sort of thing, particularly with strangers, but there was something desperate about the way he was hunched over on the sidewalk that evoked an upwelling in my heart and a desire to do something to relieve his burden in some small way. He could have told me where to stick my prayers, but he didn’t.
He smiled just a little. I thought I saw a glimmer of hope, a tiny spark.
“Thanks man, thanks for stopping, thanks for checking on me, thanks…” he rambled.
“Hang in there,” I said. It didn’t quite convey the encouragement I wished for him, but it was all I could think to say.
He cut such a sorrowful figure standing there that I couldn’t help but to wonder what it was that had brought him to his knees on a sidewalk in the middle of the day. I could think of a hundred things, maybe a thousand.
As I pulled away, Sean asked how we were going to pray for him. “We don’t even know his name,” he pointed out.
“That’s true,” I said. “We don’t know his name and we don’t know what is troubling him, but God does.”
As we drove home, my little boy and I prayed for a man on a sidewalk. It was all we could do.