We should never assume a hurting person has what they need. I learned this as a 23 year-old ministry student in a small rural town in Illinois. The kids in that town were rough. Many of their families were broken, often shattered by substance abuse. They had hard lives and they coped by partying.
Late one night a 16 year-old boy and two high school girls were speeding through town at nearly 90 miles per hour and hit a tree. He died instantly and the girls were badly injured. I learned of the accident early the next morning from a woman in the church I was serving. The younger brother of the boy had been attending some of our youth activities, but I had only met the older boy once. I had learned that both parents were in prison and the boys lived with grandma and grandpa.
I had a full day of classes and wasn’t able to make it out the see the family until late that afternoon. When I arrived at their single-wide trailer on the edge of town I approached the front door and knocked. Grandma answered. I explained who I was and said, “I just wanted to stop by to see if you needed anything and express my condolences. I don’t want to be a bother. I’m sure you’ve had a lot of people here today.”
What she said next shocked me. “Actually, you’re the first person we’ve seen today,” she said. As a kid from an intact family with a tight knit community, it was not possible, in my mind, that they had not been surrounded by friends and family in this time of great tragedy. And yet, there they were, alone in their grief.
I entered the trailer and sat down. I began to ask questions and piece together not only the stories of the boy’s lives but the magnitude of the pain, sorrow and suffering they were all carrying. Grandpa barely said two words the whole time I was there. Grandma quietly and stoically shared some of the family history. Before I left, they asked me if I would perform the funeral service. It would be my first.
I have carried that story with me ever since. It is my reminder to never assume that a hurting person has what they need. And what they almost always need, truly, more than anything else, is our presence. This is our universal human need. God knew this. And he has given us this gift, himself, in the flesh, up close – the person of Jesus in our hour of deepest need, present for us. Let us receive this gift today, and give it to others every chance we get.
Grace and Peace,