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Cover Story


You Know What Assuming Does . . .



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As I plopped into the driver’s seat of my bright red 1996 Nissan, I felt a strange sensation wash over me. A pang of painful sympathy mixed with the fear of being gullible and looking like a fool coursed through my veins, making my movements sharp and forced. Driving away, my thoughts replayed the event that had just occurred. But while the thoughts rushed through my brain like a stampede, one question raised its voice above the din: Why did I assume she was lying?

“Excuse me, ma’am? Can I please use your phone?”

I looked up from the gas pump in my hand to the woman standing before me. She couldn’t have been much more than 30. Short blonde hair reached just past her chin, shaping her curved jawline. What caught my attention was her makeup. Black streaks and gray patches smeared all across her eyelids and down underneath her eyes all the way to her cheekbones.

The woman shifted uncomfortably, but her gaze was locked on my eyes and never faltered. “I just need it to call a cab or something,” she said. “I-I was sexually assaulted last night.”

I froze. Every part of my being locked. My eyes widened in shock. My muscles tensed to the point where I couldn’t move. My brain decided that it needed to shut down and restart, like a computer whose screen has frozen, rendering it useless. I don’t know how long I stood there, aghast at what this woman had just confessed to me.

Suddenly, another figure stood before me. A man, probably in his early 60s, with dark gray hair covered by a baseball cap and a scraggly beard 

 

of the same color, seemed to appear out of thin air. His clothes were soiled, but he did not look homeless.

He stared at me straight in the face and said, “She told me what happened, but I don’t have a car. Can you help her?”

Once the man entered the conversation, I felt my brain turn back on and could nearly see the red lights flashing in my brain: Warning! Alert! Danger! I wanted more than anything to help this woman, but the man, as nice and sincere as he seemed, signaled my brain to raise the drawbridge and build up the walls of Jericho. If this woman had just been sexually assaulted, why was she so open about sharing it? Let alone to a man! The pieces didn’t seem to be fitting together.

Sexual assault victims typically feel an overwhelming amount of shame and, therefore, are very closed off from the idea of telling others or getting help. Triggers went off in my head, warning me that this might be some sort of trick. But if it was, what did they have to gain from me? I couldn’t think of a motive. Whether or not she was lying, taking this woman home was one of the worst options possible.

Putting on a brave face, I looked at the woman and the man beside her. Questions and assumptions flooded my brain, creating a whirlpool of emotions. Skepticism and caution contrasted with compassion and desire to help. What if she’s lying? What if she’s not? How can I help her? Can I help her at all? 

“Ma’am,” I began, struggling to hide the shake in my voice, “I’m so sorry for what happened to you. I’m sorry you had to go through that. But I can’t give you a ride.”

Guilt weighed my stomach down as I watched her face fall and a flash of something similar to anger cross the man’s eyes. Before anything else could be said, I quickly continued, “Ma’am, I can’t help you because the police need to. They are trained to help you. As much as I want to help you, I’m not in a position where my help would be beneficial to you. You need to call the police and let them take you to the hospital, where you can get proper care. Please, go into the gas station and ask the clerk to use their phone. The police can help you.”

She stared at her feet for a moment in deafening, stressful silence. Finally, she looked back up at me and simply said, “OK.” She turned and started to walk toward the gas station doors. I vaguely remember the man saying to me something along the lines of, “If I had a car I would have helped her,” but my attention was focused on the woman and making sure she actually went into the gas station to get help from the clerk.

“The thing is, sir, this is all I can do to help her,” I replied, my voice full and confident. “She needs to go to the hospital, and as much as I want to help her, it’s not my place.”

He nodded wordlessly, indicating his respect for my decision. “I’ll stay here with her until the police come,” he said, as he walked toward the gas station entrance. I would have stayed as well, but prior arrangements prevented me from doing so.

Now here I was, driving in my car away from something out of my control. Why did I assume she was lying? What if I had assumed she was telling the truth? Questions parried and lunged back and forth in my head like swordsmen in a duel, one saying I did the right thing and the woman was going to get justice and help, the other saying I had done the right thing, but I was a fool for thinking she had told me the truth.

What are we to do when life confronts us with situations that don’t have any indication as to what the right choice is? First John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.” Life is going to challenge us with situations that have at least two sides. While we need to be smart about which side we choose to believe, it’s also important to let compassion thrive in the way we interact with these situations.

Jesus lived a life a service, compassion, sympathy, and mercy. He took risks such as crossing the Pharisees, but He never stopped. Is it not our duty to do the same? Yes, we live in a sinful world, but God will protect us when our intentions are righteous and God-centered.

We need to make smart choices, but we let the world trick us into thinking that “smart” and “comfortable” are synonymous. Among all the questions, comments, and concerns circling in our heads, we can’t let gullibility trample the idea that smart should not include risk.

We can be a light to people, but only if we take the risk of being lied to. In the end, though, wouldn’t it still be worth it? We can’t let assumptions hinder us from service, because you know what assuming does . . . 

 

 

Ashton Lair writes from Lincoln, Nebraska.

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