It was a hot, sunny day here in Alabama when an older gentleman knocked on our front door. He had run out of gas.
“Can I borrow a pint of gas?”
He just needed a little bit to get him the rest of the way home and he assured me he would pay us back for anything we were able to give him. We talked on the front porch for a few minutes as he told the story of his day …enjoying some time with a friend and about his wife forgetting to put gas in the car, etc.
I invited him to sit on the porch rocker by the box fan to keep cool while I called my husband. Roger was just around the corner and would be home in a minute. He seemed a little hesitant to sit down at first and offered to wait in the hot car until Roger came. Since it was the middle of a sweltering hot day, sitting in the car didn’t seem like a healthy option to me.
We chatted a bit more and then I reminded him again that he could wait on the porch but I had to go in and finish getting some things done. All at once, he nervously jumped up out of the rocker and started to walk toward his car as he asked, “You’re not going to call the police are you?”
“No! You’re not bothering me at all.”
You see, he was afraid if someone saw a black man sitting on our porch, they might call the police–assuming he was causing some trouble.
There was nothing dangerous about this situation and I sure didn’t want to create one for him. I stayed with him until Roger arrived.
Thinking again about that front porch conversation, I realized for every pint of gas we need a gallon of perspective. How often do we make assumptions based on skin color, physical appearance, style, neighborhood, way of thinking, priorities, lifestyle, work ethics, etc. –almost always measured by how we think …as if that’s the only right standard.
Truth be told, some people might think nothing good can come out of the neighborhood my husband and I have chosen to live in but we know that story to be very different. Getting to know people, listening to their stories of joys and sorrows, and building relationships that bud into real friendships have made all the difference in the lens we currently see life through.
All of us have issues. Some are deep and murky. Some– cloudy and gray. But as our stories have the opportunity to collide, a clearing takes place in the atmosphere. An understanding. A better view. A shared space with a common front porch of hope and love.
Instead of making assumptions and judgments that might sound like, “If he just worked a little harder, he wouldn’t have run out of gas,” “He’s lazy and just using the system,” “There must be some ulterior motive,” “I’m sure he’s up to no good!” or “I would never do that,”– how about working at assuming the best first. What if we took the time to really listen to a person’s story with a motive of trying to better understand their journey? What if we allowed ourselves to be a part of their story–even if in the smallest of places. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said real love is supposed to look like?
“Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, 5 never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. 6 It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.”
Begin with love. Believe the best.
And maybe just a pint of gas really can go a long way to gain a gallon of perspective. And since we’re measuring here, as we adjust our scales on the front end to measure others as people worthy of love and made in the image of God, the old adage by Benjamin Franklin — “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — will ring true and bring relational healing in our neighborhoods and cities and towns… and maybe even in our nation.
God help us all.