I'm a fixer. I want to make everything better. I want everyone to be happy. Unfortunately, that's just not possible.
Sometimes I just have to admit things are out of my control. Sometimes I can't make anything better. The need is too great and my resources are too small.
And I don't like that. Not one little bit.
Still, there's nothing I can do about it, right?
Last week, a woman walked into my office. Homeless, she wanted a place to stay for the night. I tried to get her story, but with each question I asked, she switched the direction of the conversation and headed down another rabbit trail.
I don't think it was deliberate. I don't think she meant to mislead. She was just unable to stay focused. Her restless mind was jumping all over the place.
It was obvious she was chronically homeless. Several times she referred to previous periods of homelessness. She talked about "couch surfing". She knew all the places I was going to refer her to even before I shared them.
At one point, she buried her head in her hands and whimpered "please don't make me go back there" when I suggested contacting shelters in Trenton. There was no way to really know the extent of the hardships she had endured along the way to our doorstep.
I went into problem-fixing mode and spent an hour and a half with one ear pressed to my cell phone as I waited on hold for an emergency resource, and listened to her disjointed memories with the other.
When I finally got through to an operator, the answer was "there are no shelters available tonight, tomorrow, or for the foreseeable future."
Can you imagine?
And we've had a mild winter so far. What would happen when temps dipped into the 20's, the teens, or single digits?
Even so, she's luckier than most. She has a car. It offers some protection from the elements. But sleeping in 30 degree weather in a tin can with no insulation is still brutally cold.
In the end, all I could do was help a little with food and gas, but the memory of that afternoon has lingered. I've thought about her constantly since our encounter.
Yes, sometimes I just have to admit things are out of my control. Sometimes I can't make anything better.
And sometimes, I confess, I forget to talk to the one who can.
As I recounted what had transpired to a friend, their first question was, "did you pray with her? I'm sure that provided some comfort."
That question cut me to the quick.
I hadn't used the only real resource I had.
I was too busy trying to solve the problem on my own. Too busy getting annoyed at the long hold time. Too busy thinking about all the other things I still had to do that day.
I had forgotten to "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always." (1 Chron.16:1)
I may not have had the power to change her immediate circumstances, but it was well within my power to intercede on her behalf with El Roi, the God who sees.
"He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; He will not despise their plea." (Psalm 102:17)
Although it felt as if the opportunity had been lost, I heeded my friend's question and prayed after the fact for this woman. The following day, I had a conversation with the person who is basically my counterpart at another church and I explained that she might be coming his way since we mentioned his church as a possible resource.
"Well, it must have been God-ordained" he said. "Last night, I attended a meeting and sat next to a woman who runs a program that is specifically geared toward helping people like this woman. Do you happen to have her contact information?"
In fact, I did. Although I had no idea why I might contact her, before she left, I asked for her phone number "just in case anything came up."
I provided him with that number and he was going to have the program reach out to her.
At this point, I don't know if they've made contact with her, but I do know this...This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
The need is great, but my resources are not too small.
Neither are yours.
We possess the most powerful resource of all.