I once lived and worked in India. My work often required that I travel through Old Delhi, which had the most inhuman conditions and suffering I had experienced at that point in time.
I was a child of one of the wealthiest countries in the world and although I considered myself a Christian, I was spiritually naive and untested.
There was one day in particular that I will never forget. There was one day that has been woven into the spiritual fabric of who I have become.
It began as all days there began. As I gazed over the city from the safety of my walled hotel compound, the morning mist mixed with the smoke from the pyres of shrouded people who had died the night before. The morning light uncovered huddled families beneath make-shift tents in the red dirt along the road — separated from me by social class, marble walls, compound guards with rifles, my ignorance, and fear.
As our car left the compound and inched slowly into the heart of the old city, the streets increasingly pulsed with discarded people: Desperate people, tired people; displaced people and people who appeared part of the ash that filled the air. Old people of unknown ages, babies of minutes old. People who struggled to live in name only. People who understood life through the eyes of great suffering and familiarity with death. For the most part, people dependent on luck and mercy for their survival.
The crowd stirred with expectation as it beheld our slowing car. Several in the crowd must have mistaken me lowering my window to cool myself from the searing heat as the possibility I had lowered it to throw coins into the crowd. Our driver frantically ordered me to close my window and turn my face away from the glass, lest too many people press against the car for coins and overturn us. He sternly lectured me that I must harden my heart to the suffering I saw. He assured me that I could do nothing to help them and that any attempt to do so would put us all in great danger. At some point I must have turned away.
And so it happened that one day as we were returning through Old Delhi to our hotel, our driver stopped the car and left it momentarily. The heat was suffocating inside the car and the sun beat on it like Satan’s anvil. Absent-mindedly, I rolled down the car window — just for a moment — so I could breathe. At that very moment, a woman wearing sweat-drenched, torn, and filthy clothing appeared next to me, holding something lifeless to her chest. It was a child. Just then our driver came running towards the car shouting for me to close the car window. As I started to wind the window up, the desperate woman reached out to me. The driver lept into the front seat, started the engine, and tried to shift the gear into first. In a panic, the woman tried to push her child through my open car window before I could close it.
As the car began to pull away with the child back in her arms, the reflection of the setting sun hit the window glass in a strange way. For a brief moment, the image of the woman holding the child merged with my reflection. For a brief moment, I could not tell where her image ended and my reflection began. For a brief moment, we appeared to be one and the same person. Her eyes caught and held mine; they were piercing eyes, ancient eyes, and they saw me for who I was — and they judged me. They judged me rightly. And then as quickly as our eyes had met, the car sped away and the moment was gone.
As I sat back in the seat, I realized I had seen myself as God saw me. And then I saw myself as He did — and I wept.
“For I was hungry and you wouldn’t feed me; thirsty, and you wouldn’t give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked, and you wouldn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.” (The words of Christ, as found in Matthew 25:42-45)
We all have moments of great shame — moments that can shape us. Moments that can shake us to our very core and pull us from the dark road we are traveling to one that will lead us to God.
That was my moment.
What is yours?