“No thank you,” I said. The stranger in front of me was visibly emotional. His chin wrinkled and it looked like he might cry. A grown man, standing in my driveway, about to cry. He was dressed well enough and clean-shaven, but I kept my distance. I was cautious, even skeptical. He asked to wash our windows and when he spoke again, his voice shook. “You can pay me any amount. I’ll take anything. I’m just trying to make rent. I have three little girls at home.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head. (The second I saw him I decided what my answer would be.) He nodded that he understood, forced a smile, and turned to walk up our street.
I watched him readjust the shoulder strap to his bag and then it happened. My heart plummeted – fell right through the soles of my feet – and I knew. I should have said yes. I knew he was honest, his plight sincere. All at once I sensed the fear in his chest, his ache at not being able to provide. But I didn’t move. I just stood there as he knocked another door that didn’t open, then walked purposefully up the sidewalk through the mottled leaves.
A friend from our ward stood next to me on the porch. She’d heard every word and spoke first.
“I know him. We helped him once at a gas station. He wanted to sell us his bike. We gave him some cash but the rest of the evening my husband couldn’t stop thinking about him. The next day he prayed that if we were supposed to help him, we would find him again. As my husband drove home from work that night, he saw this same man walking into the grocery store. He pulled into the parking lot, went inside and offered to fill a cart with groceries. The man was reluctant, but eventually said yes, taking only the necessities.”
My spirit slumped. A judgment prematurely made was now a lost opportunity, and I wanted to make it right. I asked my friend if she knew more about him. Did he know about the church’s employment center? How much was his rent? Her car was running and my girls were yanking on my pants to come inside. So I asked if she’d be willing to drive the neighborhood to find him and give him the number for the church’s nearest employment office. She said she would.
I raced through the door, jumped online, scribbled down a number, then grabbed all the cash I had in my wallet. I gave my handful of delayed compassion to her and she set off to find him.
Half an hour later she phoned me. “I found him,” she said. “I gave him the number and your money. He said he is already working with LDS Employment Services. He is there every day, checking in, working on skills. But he just can’t sit and wait. He has to earn something. He was grateful for your money and asked if he could return to wash your windows. I told him no, that you just wanted to help.”
The experience troubled me. That afternoon I read from Isaiah 53. “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him… He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Suddenly I understood these verses about the Savior in a new way. I had just seen a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and upon first inspection, I wanted to hide my face from him. I esteemed him not.
Then I thought of the Lord’s words, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45). To me. The words went deep.
In this season of advent (which literally means “arrival”), I want eyes to see Christ’s coming. Not just as a tiny babe into a bed of hay, but in the faces of others, as they cross my path and make their quiet supplications. There is a reason they are who they are, where they are – on the corner, at the back of the chapel, or across the table from us. There is a reason for their hurt. Their eyes may be cast down but their palms are turned up. And I marvel over the wondrous truth that He who knows exactly how it feels to not be esteemed, esteems them.