A few years ago, while driving home from work, I stopped at a Payless Shoe store to look for a pair of flats. As I entered, a clerk greeted me and ran to answer the phone. I searched out my shoe size and made my way up and down the aisles. After a few moments, I heard someone calling out, “Hello! Hello?” I went about my business assuming someone in the storage room was on the phone.
A few moments later, that person started yelling, “HELLO! IS SOMEONE OUT THERE?” I looked around unsure. I slowly made my way to the end of the row and waited. A loud gasp came from the storage, and then the screaming began, “HELP ME! PLEASE, SOMEONE, HELP ME!”
Startled, I froze as the pleas for help continued for several minutes. Unsure whether I could enter the stockroom, I raced to the front of the store and motioned for the clerk to come quickly. The employee waved at me and nodded. Maybe she didn’t hear the screaming, I thought. “Miss, a lady is screaming for help in the storeroom.”
“I know,” the clerk said and continued with her phone conversation.
My heart sank. The longer the woman cried out for help, the more I needed to do something. I walked to the end of the aisle, dropped my boxes, and ran towards the voice. “Where are you?” I said. My heart pounded not knowing what to expect.
I ran towards her and found a small hallway with two bathrooms. The Women’s door stood ajar, and I could hear someone sobbing. “What’s wrong?” I asked, waiting to the side of the open door.
“They’re out of toilet paper!”
“There’s no toilet paper. Oh my god! What am I going to do?” The woman continued to plead for help as I stood in shock.
“Um, do you have a Kleenex?” I retorted.
“No,” she moaned.
“Is there a toilet seat cover or paper towel to dry your hands?”
“Oh yes! Yes, there is!” she sniffled.
“Then use one of those.”
“Oh wow, that’s a great idea, I never thought of that.”
Trying not to sound irritated I said, “Will you be okay now?”
“Yes, yes, thank you!”
I walked out of the room trying to suppress my annoyance. My heart continued to race as I picked up my shoes and carried on with my shopping. Soon the clerk returned and apologized to me for not coming sooner. “What happened?” she asked.
“Apparently, you’re out of toilet tissue.”
“Really?” the store employee looked as amazed as I felt.
Five minutes passed, and the woman sat next to me and started trying on shoes. “You know my boyfriend thinks I’m a Drama Queen,” she said sheepishly.
“No kidding?” I didn’t know what more to say. Half of me wanted to lecture her on “crying wolf,” but the other half wanted to hit her over the head with an empty shoebox. Leaning toward the later, I left.
Remembering that time, I wished I had taken a moment to speak candidly to her, listen to her heart, and perhaps share the gospel. It was an opportunity that I was ill prepared to handle.
First Thessalonians 5:14-15 says, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” (NASB)
Sometimes reassuring those who are suffering is not easy to do. I realized that the times that I am most effective in encouraging others is when I am “well fed” on God’s Word. Any verbal encouragement I produce comes from a “Well of Words,” ingested by reading, studying and listening to sermons on the Bible. If my well is empty, then my ability to help those who are weak is limited.
In her blog, “Be a Blessing,” on the Joni and Friends website, Joni Eareckson Tada says, “Few of us are called to bless entire nations. But everyone has a circle of family and friends. The surest evidence that the Lord’s hand of blessing is upon you is when others get blessed through you. When you encourage fainthearted believers, wounded friends, discouraged saints, curious pagans, or questioning onlookers, you can be sure you have God’s blessing. It happens when you point people to the Lord through your unwavering example, perseverance through trials, or spirit of gentleness or gratitude.”
Let’s strive to fill “our well,” so that we can prepare to share a comforting word, provide a listening ear, or live as an example to those who are in need.