Walmart changed my life, or this portion of it anyway. I innocently entered Walmart on New Road last Friday evening, prepared to wait for my wife while she checked out holiday leggings for our granddaughters. It had already been a long day of work in addition to 18 brisk holes of golf in a 40 degree chill, and dinner out with family, so I determined to sit this one out on a metal bench near the exit. The wait quickly transitioned into people watching, somewhat akin to waiting for a flight in a busy airport terminal, and a line from Walden popped involuntarily into my thoughts, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” In a span of fifteen minutes that seemed more like an hour, I saw adolescents trying to look like older persons, and old people trying desperately to look young, neither of them a pretty sight. I heard at least five different languages being spoken, and one of them may even have been English. Every size and color of humanity paraded past, but what grabbed my attention were the eyes that spoke of resignation without ever speaking. “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.”
One elderly heavy set and snowy whiskered man particularly commanded my attention. His blank expression and empty eyes stood out from underlying bags like hard boiled eggs. Were you to look up the word “lost” in the dictionary you might expect to see his face staring blankly back at you. He didn’t appear homeless, but I began to worry about him because he moved slowly in an aimless four foot diameter, obviously unable to decide what to do or where to go. I weighed my options. What social services could I call? Should we just take him home until able to locate next of kin? Perhaps this was a job for the authorities and I should notify the police. While fingering 911 on my phone, my wife approached the checkout and motioned for me. She wanted my opinion on the leggings, so I used one eye to examine leggings while keeping the other on Mr. Lost in Space. I was incredibly relieved when a woman approached, took the man by hand, and left the store with him. He wasn’t lost after all, at least not for the time being.
It started like the nagging of a song that you know but can’t recall the words of or the tune. It was emotional, but more than emotion; thought provoking, but more than a notion. On our way through the parking lot to our Jeep, I finally recognized it. This was the voice of God speaking through the piercings and tats, addressing me midst the cacophony of languages, age and gender confusion, and plethora of empty eyes. The voice said, “They are confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Along with the message came sudden insight that I bear enormous responsibility for these wandering lambs. I teach that as Christ-followers, our commission is to point as many as possible toward the Good Shepherd, but I had personally lost this perspective and corresponding sense of urgency. Over time, I had allowed calluses to form on my heart causing me to view these as misguided nuisances rather than desperate and dying. I have far to go in reclaiming the heart of Christ, but this Walmart reminder has pointed me in the right direction.
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news (the Gospel) of the kingdom and curing all kinds of disease and every weakness and infirmity. When He saw the throngs, He was moved with pity and sympathy for them, because they were bewildered (harassed and distressed and dejected and helpless), like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. So pray to the Lord of the harvest to force out and thrust laborers into His harvest.'” (Matthew 9:35-38, Amplified)