Two weeks ago I had my first real "paralyzed" moment while out doing ministry on the bike. I was at the intersection of Edison and Fowler, across from the Salvation Army when I saw a woman with a good deal of blood on her shirt, arm and pants. She was sitting on a wall, and her face displayed no emotion whatsoever. I pedaled over to ask if she was okay and to see what she needed, and she responded by telling me that she had skinned her arm somehow, and that she had also found out she was God. At that point, I realized this was going to be an interesting few minutes!
I chose not to reply about the God thing, but asked her if I could help bandage her arm. She said yes, and let me pour some water on the scrape. As I began to wrap the arm with gauze she slumped forward, her head dropped between her knees and she stopped moving. I promptly began to freak out, yelling, "Ma'am, ma'am! Are you okay? Can you sit up? Please sit up!" I quickly finished wrapping the gauze on her arm and then pulled her up. Her eyes were empty, but she was conscious. I asked her if she could cross the street and get to the Salvation Army building. She didn't respond. I asked again; no response came. And as this dialogue was playing out, I became aware that there was a group of four or five guys drinking and watching us, and moving closer to us, and I didn't recognize any of them. Fowler and Edison is not a safe place by any means, and the clock began to tick in my head for moving on.
I wish I could tell you that I called the police, or got the woman to move, or did something; but I didn't. I gave her a water and a granola bar, she told me she was God again, I said a one line prayer for her, and I left. The truth is, I didn't know what to do and I made a run for it. I was terrified that she was going to collapse on me, that we were becoming a spectacle, and that the crowd gathering might be hostile.
So what's the lesson in this?
In my last post I said that God wasn't looking for a plan from us, but for faith working through love. One of the requirements of faith working through love is sticking around when things get out of control. It's easy to show faith and love when the situation is controlled. It's easy to "take a risk" when we know what the risk is. It gets much harder when we lose control and don't even know how big the risk might be. But the truth is, if we are dedicated to showing faith and love to our neighbors we will find ourselves in a situation that gets out of control.
I think my failure in this instance was a failure to prepare. I assumed that I had learned a lot, and knew most of the folks in the neighborhoods I serve in and that it was going to be a "normal" trip. I was not prepared to radically adjust my plans and put myself into a situation that was out of control. And that was a huge problem. Those of us who strive to participate in God's mission and God's work must be prepared for crazy moments like these. Our best opportunities to serve God will likely be found in unplanned moments of chaos and risk and uncertainty.
So let me wrap this up by turning my lesson into a challenge for all of us, or for those of us who want to be on mission. Let's commit to preparing ourselves daily, so that if love calls for us to give up control, we can give it up, and trust in God to be with us through whatever comes.