meadowrueflowerEver been in a situation where you saw someone in need and didn’t know how to respond?

Did you get help? Or did you, like me, quietly walk away?

That mom pushing her baby through Wal-Mart this morning, cart piled with cereal and apples and milk, that was me. My fourteen-year-old son stood beside me, browsing for a scientific calculator among the school supplies, when we overheard a woman talking loudly at the end of the lane.

“He knows I don’t want him,” she said, looking down at the glassy-eyed preschooler who sat in her cart staring up at her.

“I used to,” the woman, brown-dyed hair swept up in a bun, complained to the man and woman standing nearby. “But not four days a week, not how he’s acting. I used to like watching him but not anymore. And you know it.” She scowled at the little boy to make sure he did.

Oh, God, I thought. What do I say?

I wanted to march right down the lane and ask that woman what was wrong with her. What right did she have to talk to a child that way? Didn’t she know he was listening?

Instead, I scanned the functions printed on the package of the calculators, comparing prices for the best deal, and throw one in my cart before marching off to find which check-out lane had the shortest line. My son rocked his baby brother while the clerk scanned our goods. A few minutes later we walked out the sliding glass doors together.

On the way to our van, I asked, “Did you hear that woman?”

“It was terrible.” My son pushed the cart.

“That poor kid,” I agreed, thinking of the many times in my own young life when I’d felt unwanted, unworthy, unloved. “I wish I’d said something.”

Driving home, I mulled over ways I could’ve responded: assuring the woman I knew it was hard to raise kids and telling the boy that God loves him; inviting the woman to our new kid’s program at church where he could have fun and she could get a break; buying the kid a picture Bible and offering it to them as they left the store. All would have offered the child some relief without condemning his caregiver.

I’m not perfect. Tomorrow, I might be the one needing encouragement, my kids needing hope.

“We live in a weak and broken world,” I said to my son as we neared home. “God wants us to redeem it, but he works through us. We need to be bold. We have to put legs on our love even though we are weak and broken too.”

Next time, weak and broken as I am, I hope I’ll have the courage to walk over and say something.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed,” Proverbs 31:8.

Ever been there? What would you say?