A reality check on Christmas Eve

“Are you closing?” This middle-aged woman was asking me.  She had frizzy hair.

I looked back over my shoulder.  The lights were shut off.  The sign was shut off.  It was six PM on Christmas Eve.  It was one of those questions that you don’t want to answer because it seems to obvious for words.

“I thought maybe you’d be opened on Christmas Eve.” She said all in one breath, in the panicked way people talk whose whole worlds are on the edge of collapse.   “It’s Christmas Eve and I have no where to go.” And then she let out this sound; a moan, a sob, a laugh.  Something somewhere in between.

If this was a fiction story I would have had all the right things to say.  I stood there and looked behind her.  She stood in front of one of those newer SUV’s that kind-of looks like a minivan on steroids… It was a soccer mom car.  She looked like a soccer mom.  How did she come to be alone on Christmas Eve?

If this was a Hallmark special, if this was a story in a sermon, if this was the kind of tale that people forewarded in emails, it would have a resolution… most likely a happy ending.

But in reality I stood there paralyzed.  I tried to smile at her.  I tried to suggest the movie theater on the other side of the shopping center. 

She took a few minutes, presumably to gather herself together.  I prayed for as I watched her pull away.  I am sure that Jesus was proud of me for spending three minutes of my precious time thinking about her.  (Note sarcasm.)

I don’t know where she went, or who she was, or what her story was.  Probably I never will.

In some way I’m offering up this as blog as a confession.  I posted about how Jesus wants us to reach out.  And then I didn’t.

The event was a wake-up call.  I’d been feeling quite sorry for myself.  I have a second job and was away from my family on much of Christmas Eve.  I was annoyed with people who wandered in, 10 minutes before we closed and who mulled around the racks after closing as the 20-odd staff were wanting to get out and go home.  Truthfully, I was even resentful at the fact that we’re a one car family and that I had to be picked up like a high school kid. 

And then…. Wham!  I’m confronted with somebody who is not only alone but who is also terrified with the realization that because Barnes & Noble is closed, they have nothing to do.

I tell myself it would have been easier if she hadn’t been a woman or if I hadn’t been a man.  There are very few acts of kindness between strangers of the opposite sex that don’t look inappropriate.

And so I’ve been thinking about that, today.  Things that look inappropriate.

I’ve been counseled– probably wisely– to be careful about things that look bad.  The idea is partially that we should be on our guard from bad stuff that could happen, but also that we should be on the guard for things that are in truth innocent but look inappropriate.

I get that, I think.  But I also wonder if it’s biblical.

If a prostitute today rubbed a pastor’s feet, if a woman gave a minister a scalp masage, it would look bad.  End of story.

But Jesus allowed these things.  And he lived in a less touchy-feely, much more sexually segregated society.

And so I guess it’s a fair question, to ask “How does it look when a man and a women are in public and…”

But there’s a follow up question, a bigger one, I think.

That follow up question is this:

How does it look when a man who claims to follow Christ does nothing more than point the lonely to a movie theater?

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