Recently I shared on Instagram about a guy I met at Civic Center Park here in San Francisco.
Maybe you’ve met someone before who tugs at your heart strings. Earlier in life, I found it almost impossible to describe the feeling I get, and it’s still hard; but I’ll try. Mike was the kind of guy who, if he was being ridiculed or mistreated, I would want with all my heart to stand up for and defend. He’s the kind of guy who has clearly been through so much; no doubt he doesn’t have a place to hang his hat. Mike’s wrinkled skin, bad teeth, and dirty clothes masked a beautiful soul.
I was inspired to listen in to local wisdom and happenings in the wake of a “listening project” our church is doing. Find it on Twitter and Instagram with this hashtag: #wearelisteningsf. I’m not very good with chance or one-off encounters, to be quite clear, but my occasional personal awkwardness sometimes makes other people feel more comfortable. Our toddler son also helps, needless to say.
Whenever I’m out with Silas [19months] on a walk, I feel about 924.3 times bigger than I am. I’m not just another white 20something face-I’m tied to toddler, connected to a child with a bright and beautiful personality.
Anyway, it required an intense mental dialogue, but I finally got myself to introduce myself to someone new, and I interacted with Mike quite a while, starting with a couple powerful questions. They’re not at all original to me. To be honest, I have no clue as to their provenance.
I ask my students [I’m a youth pastor] these kinds of questions all the time, and they work for just about any conversation:
What was the best thing about today? And what was the worst thing?
Mike’s answers perplexed and astounded me. First, he told me the best thing about his day was how he was able to get up in the morning and see the beautiful world around him. Ok, wow. He’s already exploding everything one might imagine about the underprivileged.
His response to the next question was equally powerful. I had to repeat the question because he didn’t seem to have an answer. And, sure enough, he didn’t.
Ben: “Mike, what was the worst part about your day today?”
Mike: “Well you know, there isn’t really anything to say. It’s been a good day. I don’t have much, but I’m doing alright.”
As I listened, I realized how much I have to be thankful for, how I can creatively practice an attitude of contentment and thankfulness in my daily life. Mike’s words were a massive gift to me. His words put contemporary meaning to a piece of biblical wisdom found in I Timothy 6:6. It reads, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Here, the author is writing to an audience who seems to be under the impression that religious practice leads to financial security [read I Timothy 6 for details!].
Mike gets it. He understands contentment. And he gets, at a deep level, the God-given wisdom of seeing everything as a gift.
And he’s helping me to get this concept too, as I listen to his experiences.
…Even though I’m not there yet.