When I crossed that stretch of parking lot in front of Albertson’s, it was all a bit of a blur. But, over the past few months, a few details have begun to emerge from the recesses.
Travis looked to be in his late 30’s. He had a goatee and was recently shaven. A pretty clean cut guy, which surprised me a little. From afar, I just didn’t know what to expect. Before I got out of the car, I took the five dollar bill out of my wallet and then walked with it being displayed. I didn’t want to seem threatening to him; I wanted to make sure that he knew I was coming with an offering and not to do him any harm.
Once I was within a few feet of this man, he noticed me and then something miraculous happened: I wasn’t really nervous anymore. To me this was astounding. I couldn’t help noticing this as I held out my hand with the money. He thanked me and smiled, and then I held out my hand again and introduced myself.
“My name’s Chuck,” I said.
“I’m Travis,” he responded, and firmly shook my hand.
I’ve certainly introduced myself before, so that was easy. What I was about to do, however, was virgin territory to me. I was about to ask a total stranger permission to let me pray for them. Good Lord…what am I doing here? Thoughts sped by in those split seconds, and I thought that my nervousness would come flooding back. The moment seemed suspended even though I knew it wasn’t. Then I just blurted out:
“Travis…do you mind if I pray for you?”
Into the breach, I thought.
“Not at all,” he said, “I’m a Christian, too.”
I reached out my right hand and touched the sleeve of his camouflage jacket. It looked like it was from one of those army surplus stores and not some sporting goods chain. I think I had something similar when I was a kid. I loved those surplus stores. I bowed my head and closed my eyes, lightly gripping Travis’s upper arm. As I bowed, I noticed Travis did the same.
I prayed. It wasn’t a particularly fervent prayer, in fact it was pretty generic, I recall. The words seemed canned and contrived, for the most part. I felt I was stringing together platitudes, and not really praying. But I do remember being led to say one thing that seemed different: let Travis know You love him, Lord. Let him know he’s not alone. I have tried to include this in all the prayers that I have prayed for street people since that day. The prayer that these people know they are not alone. This is important. Everyone needs to feel like someone cares for them. It doesn’t matter where they are in life.
When I finished, I felt that I had done Travis a disservice. I felt, in that second after I stopped praying, that Travis deserved to have someone who was a genuine prayer warrior standing in the gap for him. As this ran through my head, Travis spoke up, derailing that train of self-loathing.
“Thank you,” he said, “man, I’ve been standing out here for eight hours, and that’s the best thing that’s happened to me all day.”
He was beaming, and I was humbled.
Walking back to my car, it began to dawn on me that God hadn’t asked me to pray the prayer of my life. He had only asked if I would stand in a certain place at a certain time. That was all. He had asked me to show up. And for once, in my obstinate, bull-headed life, I did.