Fool for Christ (or “Dad Said What?!!”)
By Tom Morain of Lamoni, IA, USA
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ —Matthew 25:40 NRSV
St. Paul described himself as “a fool for Christ.” I have qualified for this title on many occasions—and one night in particular.
After leading an evening discussion several years ago, I started the 40-mile trip home on a cloudless and frigid February night in Iowa. The thermometer was plunging. Beside me on the front seat was a plate of chocolate cake left over from the discussion. A coworker had brought it because she knew it was one of my favorites, and she didn’t have to push hard to get me to take some home.
Along a shortcut through Iowa back roads, I came up over a hill and saw flashing emergency lights on a car about a half mile away. It couldn’t get far off the pavement because of the snowbanks piled on the shoulder. I also spotted two women, perhaps a mother and daughter, walking my direction on the shoulder of my side of the road. Stopping alongside them, I opened the right front window. “Can I help?” I asked.
The older woman stepped forward and leaned toward the window. “No thanks. We had car trouble, but we live at the next farmhouse. We’re almost home.”
“Be glad to give you a lift.”
“No thanks. We’re almost there.” She backed away, and the two of them resumed their trudge.
Bummer, I thought, and started to drive on. I wished there was something I could do. It was bitterly cold, and I hated to leave them there. Then I thought—the cake! That delicious chocolate cake next to me on the seat! I could at least share that with them.
I reached over for the plate, opened the door, and swung my left foot out on the frozen pavement. Once I was out of the car and had turned around, the two were already beyond the circle of light from the car, just a pair of dark lumps against a snowy background.
And into the night after their retreating figures, I called out brightly, “Wanna piece of chocolate cake?”
Even as words left of my mouth, vibrating through the cold Iowa air, I had a moment of discernment. I knew exactly what those women were thinking. Here was a strange man trying to entice them back to his car late at night on a lonely, country road with an offer of chocolate cake. He had cake on his plate but God only knows what he had on his mind. I had become the person all parents warn their children about.
They declined the cake, not surprisingly, with the explanation that they were almost home and had some chocolate cake there. But by then I knew better. I wasn’t born yesterday, I thought. They were not almost home. They did not live at the next farmhouse. They were going to call for help from the next farmhouse while distancing themselves as fast as they could from that threatening figure still holding out a plate of chocolate cake.
I felt sheepish when I got back in the car and started home. When I shared the story with my family the next morning at breakfast, my two teenage sons were mortified. “You said WHAT!?!?” What if their friends somehow found out and thought their father used “Wanna piece of chocolate cake?” as a pick-up line. How embarrassing would that be!
Later it occurred to me that my parents raised me in a time and place when genuine offers of help were simply the norm. We could take “Can I help?” at face value. Walking away was the violation when the need was obvious.
The world may have changed since my childhood in small-town Iowa, and I may be out of step, but I am still glad my instinct was to offer help. Yes, in hindsight (and for that matter, at the time) it smacks a little of foolishness, but at least I was a fool for the right reasons.
And too bad for you, ladies. That chocolate cake was delicious.
Prayer for Peace
Loving and serving you, God, sometimes leaves us vulnerable. Help us get beyond our discomfort and stumble into the depths of servanthood.
Spiritual Practice: Open Hands
Stand or sit with your hands extended in front of you. Prayerfully ponder all that you hold in your hands that make you feel too full, busy, drained, or closed. Spread your hands up and apart to release these burdens; then hold them open and empty them again. Thank God for relationships that fill and feed your spirit. Pray for a generous heart and open hands that reach out to make room for all in the circle of Christ’s community.
Today, God, I would gladly embarrass myself rather than leave a need unmet.