I went to church in Costco this weekend. Trying to hold back my tears, the lump in my throat made it hard to swallow.
I’m a mess, really. Things touch me in ways that make me think I’m weird—like really at least two standard deviations to the left of the bell curve weird! Like, really, who has a spiritual experience leading to tears in Costco?! People are eating samples of pumpkin pie and kale salad and hummus on crackers! Vitamix demonstrations are blaring! Reindeer and moose are already lit and displayed for Christmas and it’s only October 12!
So, I’m rolling my cart down the canned goods aisle of a crammed Costco on Saturday afternoon and I reflexively do something ridiculously small—something anyone else could do—and the doing of this one—tiny—thing unravels me.
A man in an electric scooter pulls something off a shelf—a package of mixed fruit—and he tried to put it in his scooter’s basket but he loses his grip. The package drops out of his hands to the floor, beyond his reach. Without thinking twice, I step over to him, placing my hand on his scooter.
“Let me help you with that.” And I go down on my knees to pick up the package resting on the floor between the man’s scooter and the shelf.
“Here you go!” I say, standing up and placing the item carefully in his cart.
“Thank you very much. I appreciate it.”
That was the extent of our exchange. Short and sweet. So why did I walk away with a lump in my throat, trying not to cry?
There’s something about reaching out and helping someone in need—to bless someone who needs blessing. I saw myself in that man. His legs didn’t work too well. There are parts of me that don’t work so well either. He needed help. Sometimes I need help. His needs were obvious. Mine often aren’t. He humbly accepted the assistance of one who wanted to help. Do I?
I felt blessed to serve in such a small way someone I don’t know and will probably never see again. And I wanted more.
So I thought about serving all the way to the check-out lanes—all at least eight carts long. I had time to observe. I noticed the people waiting in front of me—a couple in their sixties with their son by their side, about forty years old, flapping his hands. Obviously, he has special needs. His parents tended to him while we waited in line. Mother gently took his hands and placed them on the cart’s handle to help him stop flapping. She looked worn. So did Father. People tried not to stare—at the son. I tried not to stare—at the parents—giving and giving, gently and lovingly. I was blessed with the way they loved and served their son. But I thought . . .
Who cares for the needs of the caretakers—the ones with the invisible needs?
I surveyed the sea of Costco people waiting in line. I knew no one. Surely, these people have needs. Only the family in front of me was obvious. But who in this place had a need for a kind word, an offer of simple assistance? Who in the crowd showed no outward signs of challenge but inwardly was dealing with demons—or depression—or anxiety—or grief from some sort of loss, going unnoticed, uncared for?
Special needs. Some are visible and some just aren’t. It’s easy to notice the noticeable. But what about the invisible?
How can I help those in need—the invisible right here in Costco—when I don’t even know what they need?
When I don’t know what to do, I know I can pray. So I did. I prayed for the man in the scooter. I prayed for the man in my line—and his mother and his father. I prayed for all the pretty people who looked like they had not a care in the world—because I know better. I know that outsides hide insides. I know that smooth skin covers cracked hearts. I know that life is hard and sometimes even crushing. I know because I’ve been to such soul places. And I want to help. So I did. I prayed for every single one of the people in Costco while waiting in line. I don’t know their specific needs, but God does. One by one, I looked at each person and prayed for a loving touch . . .
Because we are all in need of a loving touch.
“Oh Jesus, help this person, however they need!” I went through the lines, looking at each person.
And as I prayed, the lump came back—that throat lump, trying to choke back the tears, again. Then I understood my canned goods aisle experience—why the throat lump came and the choking back of tears returned.
What a privilege it is to serve another. What an absolute honor. And how humbling it is when we realize we are like the ones we serve. We all have need for love. We all need someone to notice, to step across the aisle, to reach out, and kneel down, and lift up, and place gently. We all need love like that—obvious or not. We all need this healing love of Christ—outside church walls and sometimes inside church walls where, too often, invisible special needs go unnoticed, shrouded by the obvious.
Lord, help me always see beyond smooth skin. Help me see cracked hearts. Let your healing flow through me to any and all you open my eyes to see. And Lord, help me see! Help me love as you love, even when it means getting down on my knees in Costco and praying for the masses while waiting in line for food. Lord, help me never forget the hungry—for food, for clothes, for protection—for hugs, for listening ears, for hearts to hold. Make the invisible visible to the church who says it loves you! Make the invisible visible so we, the church, can truly be Your church.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24