Missed opportunity

March 30th, 2016

I found a new favorite “office” in Santa Barbara called Rebar Coffee.

It’s near the ocean so you get the ocean smell. It’s at the edge of downtown, so there’s lot of people watching you can engage in. Most days, Santa Barbara is beautiful and warm enough to sit outside and just soak in the sunlight and the caffeine through one of Rebar’s great draft cold brews. (For those whose eyebrows may have been raised, relax. I’m still talking about coffee.)

The other day, I had a boatload of things to do. 

In the midst of filling out paperwork and putting together thoughts for my sermon, I noticed a man sitting at the other end of the patio sipping on his cold brew (beer), staring in the direction of the ocean, lost in thought. Next to him was a shopping cart that containing everything he needed to survive. 

That’s the other thing about Santa Barbara: there’s a big homeless population here. And a lot of them reside in the downtown area.

As I saw this man savoring each sip looking towards the ocean, I heard a distinct voice in my head: Go talk to the man and see if he needs anything. But more importantly, get to know him.

Wherever or whoever this prompting came from, it was something very simple to do.

Yet, the wrestling began. Or more accurately, the excuses came.

I don’t want to bother him. He looks like he’s really thinking about something.

I have so much to do. The sermon’s not going to write itself. These papers aren’t going to fill themselves out.

What could I possibly offer except a meal? Who’s to say that he’d even talk to me?

For about 10 minutes I went back and forth. And each time I got close to getting up and walking to him, more excuses would flood into my mind.

In the end the decision was made for me. The gentleman got up, sighed deeply, and proceeded on with his life, pushing his cart.

I sat there pondering my inaction. 

What’s worse is that our church leadership had started asking our members to pray for “holy appointments” so that we could start creating contacts and — hopefully — build relationships with people who do not attend our church.

Here was a great opportunity to practice what I’ve preached, yet there I was ... hiding behind my Bible and the lame excuse of “I’m too busy.”

I’m not saying that something big was going to happen if I followed through with the prompting. But there was an opportunity to connect; to learn someone’s name; to get to know someone’s story; to see how our stories intersect. There was an opportunity to leave space for the Holy Spirit to do something, anything.

I left Rebar a bit discouraged and defeated. This wasn’t the first time I completely flaked out in a situation like this.

This day reminded me that courage is necessary for what we may perceive as a “small” act. Oftentimes, we associate courage with doing something great and mighty, world-changing, or life-altering. But courage is also needed to walk over to the next table and say, “Hey, my name is Joe, what’s yours?”

I am reminded of how faithful God is. And I know that God hasn’t given up on me and my denseness. I know that there will be another opportunity for me to create space for God to act. And when that opportunity comes, I hope I have the courage to follow through.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of Practical Prayer and Encountering Grace. He blogs at JosephYoo.com.

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