Warm heart, empty wallet?

February 1, 2017 - 12:00am -- Living City

Warm heart, empty wallet?
Seeing the needs and trusting in God’s providence at the grocery store line

I’ve always wondered “who is my neighbor” when I think of the allegorical story of the Good Samaritan. I wonder who would be so generous and kindly as to care for a seemingly indigent individual in distress. Now, as I’ve gotten to know the Focolare, I realize I’ve grown in my own awareness that God asks me to be that kind person, and sometimes he gives me the chance to do it.

Such a circumstance happened as I was standing in the supermarket checkout line, purchasing items for the Christmas party my wife would be holding for her “Separated and Divorced Group” ministry at church. Our budget was limited, and we were nearly at the end of the amount allotted for the party.

As I checked to be sure that I had not missed any items, I felt an abrupt tap on my back. Somewhat startled, I turned and saw a small, middle-aged woman who proceeded to ask if I could do her a favor and help her out. Not having any idea as to what I could do for her, my mind meandered: Carry out her groceries? Give her a lift somewhere? Whatever it might be I felt spiritually called to acquiesce to her request and said, “Yes.”

“I have 10 dollars, and I need to get these items in my basket,” she blurted. Surveying the basket, I noticed some snack items and cereals which didn’t appear to cost too much, so I felt confident that it wouldn’t be a major inconvenience. However, I wondered why I was selected to answer such a request. I felt like God was testing me. (We had just enough money for our own needs without added costs.) Would I show my trust in his mercy and grace, as he would have shown me in my request of him?

The woman urgently explained that she was a grandmother raising her daughters’ children. Under the snacks at the top of her basket, there was also an assortment of meat items which added substantially to the total bill. I swallowed deeply and thought of the children having a good meal on a cold night. It warmed my heart but devastated my wallet. I didn’t know what to think other than, “God is in charge.” This was a chance for me to trust in him.

The next day, upon returning home from Mass, we found a large unopened box on the front porch. The box was from a specialty meal home delivery subscription service that we were familiar with but did not use. I saw it was from a friend who was a subscriber. Being a single man, he had received an extra box containing four meals for home preparation, which would have been more than he could consume. So he benevolently decided to grace us with his excess.

It was so amazing! I couldn’t believe the way that God was working. We called and thanked him for his kind generosity. I do believe that he felt as good being the giver as we did being the recipients.

Several days later, another windfall came our way — an unexpected tax refund that was way beyond anything that we would normally receive. In fact, we had never received a tax refund before; each year we always owe more taxes.

Not wanting to concern my wife, I had failed to tell her about the charitable gift that I had provided at the grocery store. But now, upon receiving this unexpected gift of the tax return, I proceeded to share with her about the encounter at the supermarket, how I responded and how we were now the recipient of God’s grace and mercy.

It was more than providential; it was evidentiary, tangible and concrete. Even though she knew of other occasions where I helped others, she often wonders if I have a sign on my back saying, “Ask me.” This time, too, she understood that we were the beneficiaries of God’s blessing and that he had provided more than a hundredfold of the amount that I had proffered in his name.

I am certain that my seminal relationship with the Focolare has had a lot to do with the care, compassion and concern that I have developed to be more aware of the needs of others and those who particularly reflect the suffering of Jesus. I have grown to become less self-centered and more service-oriented in my daily life. Indeed, the Focolare experience has been transformative and enlightening to the extent that I am now pursuing a mission of community service, based upon and inspired by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich’s Economy of Communion project.

— James Reid


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