By Barb Stanley
When was the last time you saw Jesus?
The last time I saw Jesus was at a gas station about three years ago. That may sound strange, but it’s true, Let me tell you how it all went down...
The morning of my Jesus encounter was different than most mornings. It was the day after my birthday and I woke up feeling really terrible. (Not like that.) My husband and I had a fight the night before and it was more than just the normal tiff over missing socks and messy kitchens (everyone fights over those things, right?) Anyway, It had been a doozy. It was the kind of fight that when you went to bed that night you thought about that old saying, “Don’t go to bed angry.” Then immediately thought, ‘Come on, now.’ as you plopped down on the very edge of your side of the bed and built a tall impenetrable pillow fortress between you.
When I woke up that morning, I could still feel the fight clinging to me, like a nasty film that wouldn’t scrub away. I did my best to ignore it and get ready for my day. Which was important, because this day was not going to be like every other day either. On this day, I was going to give a presentation at a ministry conference in a church that I had never been to before on the other side of town. In other words, it was all the things that are hard for me rolled into one day – public speaking, driving on the highway, and finding my way without getting lost.
Luckily, I had my friend, Mapquest, to go with me. So, my phone wasn’t exactly fully charged? So, I had never traveled this stretch of road before? So, I have a reputation for making every wrong turn possible when driving? It would be fine. After all, the church was only an hour away, in the middle of country farmlands, in a place I had never seen before - how hard could it be?
About an hour and a half later, I would find out the answer to that question. As I was tooling along, trying to remember all of the points of the presentation that I needed to hit just right, and all of the awesome things I should have said during the argument the night before but didn’t think of until a day later, I noticed something troubling. The landmarks that I was passing were starting to look familiar, too familiar, as though I might be passing them over and over again in a hopeless loop. I began to sweat. According to the clock, the conference was starting in mere minutes. I grabbed my phone, which was bravely hovering around 2% charge, and pleaded with it to give me the correct directions. Alas, it seemed that Mapquest and I were no longer friends.
As I started to panic, I noticed a lonely gas station, sitting unassumingly on the side of the road amongst the cornfields. I pulled in and burst through the door. “Can you help me find this church?” I said, well, more like pleaded.
The woman behind the counter narrowed her eyes and began to slowly shake her head back and forth. “Sweetie.” She said in a gruff voice. “You’re going the wrong way.” She then proceeded to give me very long, very confusing, directions. The clock was ticking. The sweat was pouring. I jumped back in my car and hoped for the best. Moments later I was driving in the same endless circle of cornfields. I think I heard Mapquest laughing as I pulled back into the gas station.
This time the lady behind the counter didn’t even try to hide her disgust. “Honey, you STILL lost?” I nodded my head meekly. The conference was starting any moment. I was still shaken by the argument the night before. I was on the verge of tears and in every sense of the word I was lost. It was then that I noticed there was someone else there with us.
Next to the lady stood an old farmer. He was dressed in thick, brown coveralls, very dirty coveralls, actually. He was old enough to be my grandfather and had that type of gloriously sun-beaten face that makes advertising executives swoon. He looked at me. I looked at him. And then this stranger, whom I had never laid eyes on before, did something crazy.
He grabbed me and held me in a very long, full on, bear hug right in the middle of that old gas station. And then something even crazier happened. I felt better.
And none of it made any sense. There I was, dressed in my best public speaker blouse and slacks, being full body hugged by a complete stranger wearing muddy coveralls in the middle of a lonely cornfield gas station, witnessed by the world’s grumpiest gas station attendant, and for just a moment all was right in the world. Then, after a socially unacceptable long time to hug a complete stranger, he let me go. He slung his arm around my shoulder (we were buds by now) and walked me outside. He seemed to know that giving me more complicated oral directions was pointless, so he walked me out to the road and actually showed me what I needed to do next. I was no longer lost.
I was also no longer nervous for my presentation. And I was no longer angry with my husband. Instead I was filled with peace. A peace that I had done nothing to deserve, just one that had simply overflowed from that old farmer into me. And as I stood there watching him walk away I knew something amazing. I had just seen Jesus.
And what I mean when I say that is that I saw Jesus in that old farmer. I saw all the years that he had poured over his Bible, highlighting meaningful passages. I saw all the prayers he had prayed in good times and bad. I saw all the times he had chosen patience over impulse, forgiveness over bitterness, grace over condemnation, and boldness over fear. I saw a man so filled with peace that I could not help but be filled with peace too.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13
And I saw a man who modeled Jesus in all the ways that truly mattered. Because modeling after Jesus means more than just being in the right place at the right time. It also looks like this.
Someone who is not afraid to break social norms. Walking up and bear hugging a complete stranger is not exactly a cool thing to do, but neither is letting an unsavory woman wash your feet with her hair at a fancy dinner party. But Jesus did that because just like this old farmer, he was more concerned with the needs of the lost woman in front of him than what those around him thought.
Someone who notices. When I first walked into that gas station, I didn’t notice the old farmer standing in the corner because I was too focused on my own problem. Often, however, I don’t notice others around me because I am too focused on the phone in my hand. (Does that ever happen to you?) Jesus and the farmer, on the other hand, are noticers. Remember the story of the woman in the crowd, who touched Jesus’s cloak. He hadn’t been too distracted to notice her. He had been present in her presence and noticed her need, just like the farmer noticed mine.
Someone whose actions speak louder than words. To be honest, I don’t really remember anything the farmer said to me. I do remember the grumpy gas station attendant’s words – “Sweetie – Honey – Seriously – Oh, for the Love of Pete” But what has stuck with me more was what the farmer did and how it made me feel. He saw my need and he simply met it, just like Jesus did with five loaves and some fish. Words can be lovely, but actions feed the hungry.
Someone who doesn’t make sure people are worth saving before saving them. While I may not remember much of what the farmer said to me that day, I do remember what he didn’t say. He didn’t ask me who I voted for, or what I thought about hot-button topics in the news, or if I went to church, loved my mother, or recycled. He didn’t ask me any qualifying questions to see if I was worthy of his time, his care, and his mud-stained hug. He just freely gave all of those things and then after he did, he didn’t do something else. He didn’t ask for anything in return. Sound like anyone else you know?
And finally, there was one more way that this socially awkward, behind on technology, random hug giving, don’t care who you are or where you came from, old farmer modeled Jesus and changed my world. He was..
Someone who could change the heart of a very lost person, just like that – just like Jesus.
After I left the gas station I didn’t feel the same as before I entered it. I was different. I can’t exactly explain it. It wasn’t just that my day had been turned around or I had been inspired to perform acts of kindness of my own. It went deeper. All that morning I had been tightly wound and feeling lost and then after the encounter at the gas station, I felt completely new inside. And I didn’t want to go back to how I felt before. (That sounds kinda great, doesn’t it? It is.)
As for the rest of the day, well I jumped back in my car, said goodbye to Mapquest and tooled on further down the road (where he had shown me) and made it to the conference with moments to spare. I nailed my presentation, met a few great people, and went on home to make up with my husband. In the end, that day truly did turn out to be a day not like every other.
So what really happened that day? I know that some of you reading this may think that I just described an encounter with an angel. I don’t know. But, what I think is this. The person I met that day was even more rare than that. I think I met a person who had spent his life being filled by Christ and when the time came he wasn’t afraid to let it overflow onto me, even though it meant doing something a little crazy. But what’s even crazier is this. Even though it has been nearly three years since this happened, I still think about that old farmer quite often. And when I do, I always ask myself this very important question.
When was the last time someone saw Jesus in me?
What about you?
If you ever saw Jesus in someone else, please use #SawJesus and share your story.