After church services ended, Bob sat quietly as the church emptied. When the last person left, he asked himself why he feels so sad and unfulfilled, even in this house of God.
Bob was often depressed and had begun to wonder if his life had any meaning, if this was all there would ever be. Just then, from out of nowhere, a man walked up and sat down beside him.
“Do I know you,” Bob asked. “You do,” the man replied. “But it has been a long time since we’ve spoken. I see the sad, frustrated look on your face and your slumped beaten down posture.
“What’s bothering you Bob,” the stranger asked.
At first Bob didn’t answer as he stared at the brightly lit cross behind the podium.
Then he replied, “This week a co-worker of mine needed $50 more to pay her rent. She asked if she could borrow it from me, but I’m not rich. I work hard for my money and maybe someone in her family could loan it to her. So I said no.”
“Did a family member loan it to her,” the man asked. “I don’t know,” Bob said with a shrug.
“Is something else bothering you,” the man asked. “I don’t think so,” replied Bob, who was quiet for a moment. Then he remarked, “There is something else,”
“About two weeks ago, I was sitting outside having lunch,” Bob said. “From the next table, some lonely old lady started talking to me about her life. But I wasn’t interested and turned away.”
“What happened next,” the man asked. “Nothing,” answered Bob. “I ignored her.”
“Is there anything else bothering you,” the man inquired. “Yeah there is something else eating at me,” Bob said. “A couple months ago I saw a guy get laid-off. He was all teary eyed and when he packed up his things, I saw a picture of his wife and two little kids.
“They were all smiling merrily and as I looked at the two children, the boy was about 5 and the girl was about 3, and they looked so innocent and happy,” Bob continued.
“I thought about going over to talk to him, but then I decided not to get involved.”
“Why didn’t you speak with him,” the man asked.
“Now that he’s on the out with the bosses,” Bob replied, “I didn’t want to be seen with him. Nor did I want to hear his hard luck story about how he was going to support his family. After all, what can I do?”
After that Bob fell silent as he folded his arms tightly together.
“Would you like to know why you feel so sad and unfulfilled,” the man asked. “Yeah,” Bob replied in a sarcastic tone.
“You don’t care about others,” the man said. “Only about yourself so your life is empty. If you had loaned your co-worker $50 to help pay her rent, you wouldn’t have missed the money and she’d have been grateful to you. You didn’t even care enough to find out what happened to her.
“And the lonely old lady and the laid-off man just needed you to be a good listener and to maybe offer a few kind words of support. That’s all. But you didn’t want to get involved. You didn’t care.
“Well, why should I care,” Bob snapped. “People aren’t grateful, they’re self-centered and selfish.”
“Were you expecting them to be perfect,” the man asked. “Like you, they’re imperfect and like you they desperately need others to care for them. But your rejection made their world colder and with it put a chill on your world as well. And all those chills add-up. That’s why you feel as you do.
“I’m a good person,” Bob replied. “I go to church every Sunday and I even read the bible.”
“Yes I know,” the man answered. “But do you put the lessons into practice? How about, ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you.’ You could start with that one.
“In this church’s kitchen there is a homeless man sitting by himself having the first decent meal he’s had in days. He is very much alone in life. If you want to find meaning in your life, and even your humanity, you’ll join him for a little while and give him the fellowship he needs. Or you can sit here and feel sorry for yourself. The choice is yours.”
After considering their conversation, Bob stood-up to go to the kitchen to join the homeless man.
“Who are you,” Bob asked. “And how did you know what was troubling me? You knew before you ever asked me.”
“Who I am and how I knew doesn’t matter,” the stranger replied with a smile as he shook Bob’s hand. “Think of me as the voice of your conscience.” And then as suddenly as he had come into Bob’s life, the stranger rose and walked off and disappeared into the distance.