Thursday. The very name of the day on the calendar overwhelmed me with guilt. Tuesdays and Thursdays are always food pantry days where I help distribute food and necessities to the needy at the local Family Care Center. In the past I have always loved my time serving at the pantry. I used to look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays with great anticipation and joy at the opportunity to interact with the community and serve the body of Christ but recently I lost my passion for the pantry.
It all started with the stench.
Over the past few months the crowds checking in to receive assistance have been growing in number and destitution. With rising unemployment and growing immigration the level of poverty has spiked sharply. The evidence of the epidemic wafts into the air on the skin and clothes of the homeless visitors who make their way through the door of the pantry. Their odor is a silent call of desperation for food and soap.
As I looked at the day on the calendar all I could think about was the dirt, grime and smell of the pantry. With childish determination and reluctance I decided not to go.
In my mind I did my best to rationalize my decision.... I'm just one person, they won't even notice if I'm not there. How many people would I really serve anyways? I'd have to drive downtown. And, look, I think I see a rain cloud, better stay home! My lame attempts at justification were downright silly and utterly feeble. I was being selfish in my heart of hearts and the pit in my stomach knew it.
Then, like a lightening bolt cutting through the night's black sky, a Word of truth flashed across my mind's eye. Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought. In the moments that followed a wave of shame and guilt flooded my heart and engulfed my spirit. How foolish I had been to judge the scent on my fellow brothers and sisters. In order to protect my own nose I had almost neglected to walk in the footsteps of Christ who, during His ministry, didn't just smell the foul odors of death and dirt but even washed the muddy feet of shoeless travelers. And I wanted to stay home and away from the off-putting scent of homelessness? I wanted to withhold the extending of a box of cereal to avoid an unpleasant odor?
An hour later I found myself standing in the center of the food pantry greeting visitors, loading up plastic bags and helping to unload big boxes of coveted toilet paper rolls. In my short visit to the pantry I met new friends, shook hands and exchanged countless smiles. The visitors received their food and even a little bit of friendly conversation. In return I was blessed beyond measure and filled with the joy that only God can give.
And do you want to know a secret? I didn't smell a thing.