It’s not every day that I find an inebriated man laying his hands on me and praying over me. Nevertheless, this was the exact situation that I found myself in while on a business trip in Farmington, NM. As a college recruiter, I had the privilege of traveling throughout the Four-Corners area often. My travels would find me educating aspiring college students as they explored their options. On this day, I had attended the San Juan Community College transfer fair. That event yielded great results. I was excited with the outcome and looked forward to following up with potential students. However, the event left me completely zapped of energy and absolutely starving. Needless to say, I was famished and had a one-track mind to find me something to grub on. Since I was on a time crunch, I needed to find something fast but yummy. I decided to drive to Firehouse Subs for a Hook & Ladder sub (which happens to be one of my favorites).
I could already taste the savory turkey breast, Virginia ham, and Monterey Jack cheese before I had ever parked my car. Once parked, I hopped out and quickly strolled to the door of the establishment. As I approached the door, I noticed a disheveled man standing to the side of the door. His clothes seemed a bit dirty, his hair was a mess, and as I drew closer, the smell of booze just about knocked me over. My intention was to pick up my pace, enter the restaurant as quickly as I could, and avoid any interaction with him. Much to my disappointment, my plan was unsuccessful. “Hey, Mister,” the man shouted, “do you have any spare change?…I’m hungry.” In my mind, I debated what my response should be and whether I should respond at all. “Come on, John,” I told myself, “Quit stalling. This silence is awkward.”
“Would you like for me to get you a sandwich?” I asked. The man seemed surprised and asked me, “You mean here? I’ve never had a Firehouse Sub before.” “Sure,” I said, “I mean, I’m gonna get myself one. I don’t have cash, so I could easily get one for you, too.” The man look puzzled like he couldn’t believe that I was going to buy him a sandwich. He continued looking at me with disbelief as I held the door open for him, and he followed me inside.
“I’ve never had a Firehouse sub before, Mister,” he said nervously, “You don’t have to get me anything fancy…just something small…it’s just that I’m so hungry.” “In that case,” I told him, “I’ll order you what I’m having. It’s my favorite sandwich here.” I looked up at him, and I could tell that his eyes were welling with tears. However, instead of feeling empathy, I wanted to cower with shame. I thought about the polo shirt that I was wearing. It had an emblem of the university that I worked for. Suddenly, I began to worry that I might run into one of the potential students that I met with earlier. What if they saw that I was with a disheveled drunken man? How would they respond? I was convinced that they would be turned off with the situation.
I stood in line with my mind lost in a cloud of possible scenarios. My heart raced as I went through each of them one by one. You’d think that my response would have been different. You’d think that I’d be more willing to demonstrate grace. Instead, my heart was calloused and disconnected from the heart of God.
“I’m so stupid,” he said, choking back the tears. “I can’t believe that I just drank away my entire paycheck.” He went on to tell me that his wife had kicked him out of the house and left him for another man. He said that he was so angry that he went to the bar and spent every last penny that he owned. He finally came to his senses when he started to get hungry and realized that he no longer had money.
He shared his story in spite of the tears that were streaming down his face and the quivering of his lips. Part of me wanted to show him empathy. Another part of me wanted to run away. In my heart, I wanted to share a word of hope with him. Deep inside, I wanted to pray for him and tell him about the hope that is found in the gospel… but I couldn’t. The truth was that my life was just starting to come back together. The truth is that I had fallen flat on my face and almost lost my marriage myself. The truth is that I was full of shame and couldn’t shake myself free from it. So instead of sharing hope.,I listened to him speak and paid for his sandwich.
I expected that we would part ways once the sandwich had been paid for. Instead, he remained by my side and waited for the order to be ready. I breathed a sigh of relief once they called our number. As quickly as I could, I grabbed his sandwich and handed it to him. “Here you go,” I said, “Enjoy your first Firehouse sub.” In my mind, I pictured myself walking away and sitting in a quiet corner of the restaurant by myself. However, I found myself being taken back by something very unexpected.
As I handed the man his sandwich, he quickly reached over, placed his hand on my shoulder and began to pray out loud. “Father God,” he prayed, “Thank you for sending me this man who paid for the sandwich and who listened to me talk. I ask that you would bless him, watch over him, and prosper him all the days of his life. Amen”. Once done, he quickly thanked me and left the restaurant. I, on the other hand, found myself in a quiet corner, wiping tears of conviction off of my face, no longer able to eat my sandwich.
Here is what I learned that day.
God will use whoever or whatever it takes to reach your heart.
I never would have thought that I’d find myself in a place where a drunk man would minister to me. However, God knew what it would take to reach my heart at that moment. The words weren’t profound, but the message that this experience gave me was huge. I can’t run from God’s blessing. I can’t run from God’s presence. I can’t run from God’s desire to prosper me. I am His child. He loves me.
God’s grace is bigger than any curtain of shame.
I have to laugh when I realize that God chose to use a drunk man to break through the curtain of shame that I had clothed myself with. God knows that if he would have sent an intellect, I would have tried to reason myself out of a blessing. In his grace, God sent the right person at the right time to bless me. That’s it. God’s desire is to bless all His children. And His blessings are greater than any ounce of shame.
God is willing to use me even when I rebel.
I fought back the desire to share Christ. Yet in my rebellion, my nature to minister still reached the needs of this person. I don’t know if this guy knew Jesus. I certainly didn’t bother letting him know that I knew Jesus. However, God used me to share the love of Jesus even when I was rebelling to share Jesus to the fullest. That day, I was reminded that even my rebellion is powerless to the cause of Christ. God will use whatever and whoever He chooses. I’m honored that He chose to use me that day.
John Eli Garay
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on john-eli.com
Featured Image by Unsplash