Vacant Stare Man

"Caring should pour from us like springs of living water." by Pauline Hylton

I jerked my car into the left turn lane. Late again! Stopping for hot tea at the dingy gas station had taken longer than I’d anticipated. The woman in front of me couldn’t decide on filtered or unfiltered smokes. Rushing out to my mini-van, I noticed him.

He stared vacantly at the busy beach intersection. No shoes, dirty jeans — skin blistered by the hot Florida sun. My heart warred between compassion and anger. Still, I started the van and rode away, attempting to make it to Bible study on time.

But I couldn’t get “Vacant Stare Man” off my mind. I had to go back. I pulled back into the station and searched through my purse. I know I have five bucks in here somewhere.

I found it and headed in. Catching the manager’s eye, I told him of my plan. He agreed.

I exited and found the man still sitting by the side of the building, feet tucked under his body, arms circling his thin legs. Vacant Stare Man.

I cleared my throat as he looked up.

“My name is Pauline Hylton. I’ve left five dollars inside for you to buy food,” I stated irritably. “I want you to know that I’m doing this because I am a Christian!” I almost spat the words.

He stood. I noticed stains on a shirt that had seen better days. His glossy eyes rose to mine. This time, I really looked at him. He did the same.

“My name is Timothy.”

I don’t remember what I said. I only know I couldn’t get to my van fast enough. Once inside, I bawled. Who did I think I was? I thought I cared when in truth, I was just checking Vacant Stare Man off my list so I could attend Bible study with a clear conscience. I didn’t care about Timothy.

When faced with the truth about my indifference, it’s painful. Caring is hard. Caring is exhausting. Caring takes time.

Caring is important.

Maybe you’ve got the same problem. Maybe you want to care, think you should care—even know you should care, but don’t know where to start.

We could begin together. I’m no expert in caring, but as followers of Jesus Christ, caring should pour from us like springs of living water… The Living Water. But how? Let’s think through a few suggestions.

Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open

All around you, people have needs. Some are physical, others emotional, some mental, mostly a combination. Begin by really looking at people. The cashier at the store may be going through a divorce. The older gentleman who sits alone in church could be lonely. Oftentimes just noticing people and acknowledging them makes a difference.

While stopping by our church office a few years ago, I noticed an older woman I had not seen in a while who carried a worn look on her face.

“Hey Joan, how are you doing?”

“John had a stroke while he was in rehab about six months ago. He came home after three months, and I’ve been caring for him. It’s tough, he cannot walk and can hardly get into his wheelchair.” She paused. “I’m exhausted!”

I knew her husband had been in the hospital, but I had no idea she was the sole caregiver for a man who normally would have been placed in a nursing facility.

That conversation jump-started a ministry in our church called. A Caring Life that reached out to caregivers and the ones being cared for. Volunteers were assigned a family, given some suggestions of how to minister to them and then asked to contact them both in person and by phone at least once a month.

Ephesians 6:18 states “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

Being alert is a great way to start caring.

Try Different Ministries

I grew up serving The Salvation Army, but my children did not. When they were in grade school,

we began to serve once a month in a homeless ministry. They were exposed to many kinds of people who did not fit nicely into their middle-class lives.

That was my purpose.

Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones to meet the challenges of today’s culture. The Salvation Army has such varied programs, along with other Christian-based organizations. The needs are vast—the workers are sometimes few.

So read your newspaper, or your church bulletin, or call the Army and ask if they need help. It may be a good fit, and it may not. You may walk away and think, I was made for this. Or you may say, Lord help! Which brings me to my last suggestion, which is really a command.

Ask the Lord

Scripture says to pray about everything (The command). He will answer because Jesus not only commands us to care but He is the ultimate caregiver.

A few years ago, I went back through the gospels. My love for Christ had grown cold. I literally prayed, “Lord, help me fall in love with You, again.”

He answered that prayer. When I read and studied the book of Matthew, Christ’s compassion jumped off the page at me. A particularly poignant example is found in Matthew 8:1-3: “Large crowds followed Jesus as He came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached Him and knelt before Him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean.’

“Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”

Jesus did not have to touch the leper, but He did. It had probably been years since the man had been touched by anyone.

When was the last time you touched someone? I have found that the blessing is more for the giver than the receiver.

Don’t walk by the homeless man, or pass the elderly, or avoid the mentally challenged.

Be like Jesus.

This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of The War Cry.

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