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Many years ago, back when our kids were younger, my wife and I were shopping for Christmas gifts in Atlanta. We went to this huge toy store—one of the largest I had ever seen at the time. I remember thinking, Where were toy stores this big when I was a kid? It was amazing!
So I’m walking through this store and looking at all the fun stuff and, as I walk down one aisle, I notice a lot of people ahead of me are stopping. They briefly stop, look to their right and pause for a second, then scurry away.
Obviously, I’m curious. What are they seeing?
As I eased my way down the aisle and began to look to the right, I heard the sobbing. An older woman, probably in her 70s or 80s, was sitting on a large cardboard box, clutching her purse tightly. She was bent over and obviously in some kind of tremendous emotional pain.
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As I looked at her, my honest first reaction was, How dare you? I mean, this is Christmas. People are here to celebrate and enjoy the season, and you’re here bringing everybody down.
Then, just like everyone else, I walked away.
Later, as I was in my car driving home, the guilt began to set in. I began thinking, What was her story? Was this her last Christmas before she died of cancer? Is she broke and upset because she can’t buy any of these toys for her grandchildren? Is something a reminder of a child who passed away?
What in the world was hurting that poor woman?
I wanted to turn around, to drive back to that toy store and talk to her, but she would’ve been long gone by then. So all I could think about on my 70-mile drive back from Atlanta was how I should have helped her.
You know how long it takes to forget that? Every Christmas since 1970, I remember that woman. I wonder why I didn’t stop and help. I wonder why I didn’t do something.
Now I know God has long since forgiven me. And based on the age she was then, she has long since passed away. I can’t go back and change the situation.
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But I still think about how things might have been different if I had been what I’m supposed to be—if I’d been what I tell everybody I am as a Christian. When Jesus saw someone in emotional or physical pain, he stepped in to help.
So if we’re going to live like Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same thing? When we see someone hurting, shouldn’t we intrude into that situation, even if we don’t know them?
Absolutely, we should.
This Christmas, don’t ignore the strangers you see hurting. I would do anything to go back in time and simply ask that woman, “Can I help you?” Take some time to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life. That brief moment of discomfort will be so much better than living with years of regret.
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Joe Beam is an internationally known and respected authority on love and marriage. He is the founder and chair of Marriage Helper based in Franklin, Tennessee. He has designed and developed courses, workshops and seminars to help troubled marriages for over two decades. Today he dedicates most of his time to researching and developing new ways to help couples in crisis. You can learn more about Joe Beam at www.marriagehelper.com.