There But For the Grace of God Go I
I get out of my car in the supermarket parking lot at the same time a car slowly cruises by. The woman driver stops and asks if I can help her out. She’s trying to get to the nearby gas station to get gas so she can go pick up her son in a town 30 miles away, but she doesn’t have any money. She’s been praying, please can I help her?
Why me? I’m driving an 8-year-old car. I can’t possibly look very prosperous because I just got off work and I’m wearing a tee shirt, shorts and flipflops. “Don’t you have a credit card?” I ask. In my world I think everyone has a credit card. “No.”
“How do you not have any money?” Her husband married a cop in this nearby town and now she has to go through “all this.” She doesn’t know what to do. She’s been praying someone will help her.
I guess I’m that reluctant someone. I open my wallet and give her six dollars. She thanks me and asks me to pray for her and drives away.
I watch to see if she’s actually going to the gas station. It appears she is. So I say a prayer for her as I enter the store. When I come out I’m pleased with my purchases, especially the $10 of luscious-looking green grapes. I justify this outrageous purchase by telling myself how much I could have and have in the past spent on potato chips and chocolate.
When I’m stopped at a light on my way home there’s a panhandler on the corner. Sometimes I give panhandlers money and sometimes I don’t. There’s a ministry a few blocks away for the homeless. But someone in front of me helps him out, so I dig into the bag of dollar coins I keep for this purpose and offer the guy one. He seems pleased and thanks me. I have the usual debate with myself. Did I just help him buy drugs? Or alcohol? Are people like me part of his problem?
As I drive on I hear my father’s voice in my head saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” If he said this once during my childhood he said it a thousand times. And I think how blessed I am. I can afford to buy outlandishly priced grapes. I can fill up my gas tank when I need to and pay my bills and keep a roof over my head. But how quickly that could all change. It could be me out on the street, begging on the corner, asking someone to help me. If I’d thought of it I could have gone to the gas station with that woman and put gas in her car on my credit card.
I recall that the woman in the car was smoking. She can afford cigarettes, but not gas. And then I think, stop judging her. You don’t know her story. And I think how so many women produce children even though they are in unsuitable or short-lived relationships. How hard it must be to try to protect your children when you have little to offer them because you are struggling financially or otherwise.
Maybe that’s why those people in need are there. Why God puts them in front of us. To remind us that could be us. To remind us to be grateful for what we have and never to take it for granted. To make us not look at them with pity, derision or judgment, but with the thought that
there but for the grace of God go I.