The man approached me at the Speedway as I filled my car’s tank with fuel. The man didn’t look dirty. He didn’t look homeless. He didn’t look out of place. But there was something odd about his approach and at the same time there was something familiar in his story.
As soon as he opened his mouth I recognized the familiar themes: There was an apology for the imposition. There was a story about prior success and unfortunate events that resulted in his downfall. There was a sexual assault. There was a medical disability. There was much effort on his part; attempts to find work and get back on his feet. He was living in his car and to top it all off, the last $50 he had in his pocket were stolen last night. And now he needs help. It was a tough story and I was skeptical from the beginning.
In fact, even before he opened his mouth I’d determined that I would turn him down for the obvious request for cash that was soon to come. I’ve heard it all before from so many others in his situation. As a pastor in northern Indiana, I’d heard so many renditions of this same story. The only part of the story that was missing was that he was traveling to Kentucky from Michigan for his uncle’s funeral.
But then he said something that I’ve never heard before. “I don’t want money, I just need some gas for my car.”
And with that, he had me. There have been so many passer-throughs who needed a helping hand and when I offered to buy their gas, they looked at me as if I’d offended them. I can’t tell you the number of people who turned down my offer for fuel.
But this guy just wanted me to go over, activate the gas pump and allow him to put in a few dollars in gas. And I did. Without another thought, I agreed to his request, activated the pump and allowed him to fill the car.
He thanked me and I told him it wasn’t any problem…because, in truth, it wasn’t. It cost me $32.25. That’s all. And it gave this guy enough fuel to drive a little further and stay a little warmer at night.
A young man filling his car on the other side of the pump stopped me as I passed. He couldn’t have been any more than 25 years old. He looked me in the eye and said in the smoothest, sweetest voice, “Bless your heart.” I nodded to him and returned to my car. And as I drove away, it dawned on me that what we do for one has the potential to impact others. I gave a guy a few dollars worth of gas but the young man, watching the interaction without my knowledge, received a little as well.
And here’s the point of this story. This is the bottom line: People are always watching. Whether we know it or not, people see your deeds; good or bad. They are thinking about your actions. They are analyzing your generosity. And in the end, your generosity can impact more than just the one guy at the pump.