I exited Walmart a couple of nights ago into a crowd of gawkers. There had been an accident. I breathed a sigh of relief as the woman on the ground being attended by three men was speaking in coherent sentences. As I scanned the crowd to figure out what happened I saw her. The woman in tears, clearly shaken and on her phone standing outside her car. She was the reason. I could hear the sirens as the fire engine and ambulance arrived followed almost immediately by a police car.
I started thinking, “What is happening here?” as my mind flashed to the images on the news from the day before, where just a block away, an SUV crashed into a Starbucks. Several people were injured, one critically. There were no drugs or alcohol involved, just a slip of the foot on the accelerator. I did not any of the people involved, but I have friends who did.
Within less than 24 hours in mid-December, the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, lives were changed. I doubt those involved would call it wonderful. Not the man from a local ministry unexpectedly hit by a car in the middle of Starbucks while innocently holding a meeting, who has undergone one surgery and is facing another. Nor the poor woman lying on the ground in front of me who had been walking in the crosswalk from the parking lot towards Walmart and not for the women who were driving the cars, absentmindedly causing “accidents”.
There was almost a sense of fear in my insides. This woman I was watching on the ground or the people in the Starbucks I have been in any number of times could have been me, or family or friends.
I kept staring at the woman standing outside her car looking stunned, shaking. What was she thinking or doing when she hit the woman lying on the ground? I imagined she may have been thinking about finding a parking space to race in and pick up the items she needed for a stocking, for a hostess gift, for dinner, or maybe she had just come out of the store and was racing to get home or to the holiday gathering, or maybe she was talking on the phone about what she had just purchased, her ETA to her destination, maybe hearing some upsetting news…
Whatever had been going on with her, she was not present in the moment. She was not looking where she was going, even if it was for a brief moment. My inclination was to judge and condemn her but then I was shaken to the core with the truth. The truth is I have found myself in that very space any number of times, thinking about something else and not paying attention to what is right in front of me.
We are in the midst of a hectic and all-consuming time of year. Stress seems to come at us from all directions. Whether we are tying up year-end business, getting ready to travel, racing from one event to the next, trying to find “perfect” gifts and the time and money in which to purchase them as we watch the days tick down to the 25th, or feeling sad and alone as we mourn the loss of a marriage or the death of a family member or the distance from our family we just can’t be with this year the stress can feel relentless.
We get overwhelmed and absentminded. Have you found yourself driving and arriving at your destination not entirely aware of how you got there? Have you found yourself in line to check out, feeling irritated by how slow it feels and barely acknowledging the person who checks you out? Have you been shopping and focused on what you are looking for, accidentally bumping into someone or getting bumped into? Have you encountered a friend or acquaintance while out and about and felt impatient by the conversation or barely remember it for want of moving on to the next item on the endless list? Have you purposely avoided everyone and ignored every invitation because you were just not up to engaging with anyone?
It is time to stop and seek the truth. It is time for a reality check. We are so caught up in the activity we miss the joy in the moment! We have been given the most amazing present of all time. The gift of love and grace from our Heavenly Father in the form of His one and only Son, who came to save us all.
Isaiah told of His coming seven hundred years before He arrived. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Immanuel means God with us. God’s present to us is His presence with us, first with Jesus and then the Holy Spirit.
The best present we can give this Christmas is our presence. Let’s stop being absentminded and be present with what is right in front of us as we drive, as we shop, as we encounter people, as we celebrate, as we worship.
Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) God loved us enough to give the gift of His presence. Will you join me in loving those around us by purposely giving them the gift of our presence? Imagine how God could use that time to bless us all.