Diapers in the Road by Scott Bane

A few months ago I was on my way to the grocery store and spotted something in the middle of the road.  As I approached, it became clear that a large box of Huggies had fallen from someone’s car and landed in the street.  The box looked as though it had been hit a few times because diapers were scattered and the box was smashed and destroyed.  Something about this scene moved me – deeply.

I could put a whole story together around this dirty, smashed mess of diapers.  With two kids in diapers right now, I understand how important they are.  When you go to the store to buy diapers it is because you need diapers.  And they’re not cheap.  When my wife goes to the store, she has four little kids with her.  Each one demands 100% percent of her physical and emotional attention.  Do that math – that keeps moms spread awfully thin.

She’s always carrying at least one – often two and trying to keep tabs on the bigger ones as they navigate the busy parking lot.  Then think about inside the store… everyone grabbing at things and asking for things.  The two year old screaming because he wanted the cart with the plastic truck attached.  The baby chewing on the part where everyone in the universe has placed their sweaty, filthy hands.  Moms are good at managing this stuff through repeated practice.  It takes a lot to really wear down and wear out a mom, but the grocery store provides all the right stressors to do it.

Can’t you imagine that her mind is on a million things at once as she opens the lift gate and fills up the back?  The diaper box goes on the roof while she wrangles the kids and in the chaos, never makes it into the van.

The diapers ride on the roof of the van for a little while.  As she accelerates to get onto the road and get home, the diapers tumble off the roof and hit the pavement behind her.  If she noticed right now, she might be able to pull over, jump out and rescue them but there is too much going on in the van and there is way too much on her mind.  She drives on.

At home the mission of unloading begins.  Think about the mix of painful emotions as she searches the van for the diapers.  Where are the diapers? The most important thing she went to the store for is not here.  I can vividly empathize with the horror and the helplessness of that moment of realization.  All of this flashed upon my heart in the seconds it took me to pass the evidence of this drama, spilled across the road.  I could feel the agony in my own body – my guts churned as compassion for this anonymous person swelled within me.

I prayed as I drove, asking God to put a stop to this kind of senseless loss.  “Intervene,” I pleaded.  As I prayed, helplessness was beginning to wash over me as well.  It’s too late.  I can’t pick up these diapers – I’d never be able to find the person that lost them.  There is nothing for anyone to do to help.

Are you in touch with the pain of others?  Do you notice the evidence of their loss?  Maybe it’s not diapers that would get your attention, but is there something?  I’m trying to become more sensitive to the compassionate heart of Jesus.  I want to see what he sees and I want to feel what he feels when he looks over the people who live where I live.

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This story of the diapers is one of the rare ones in my life because it has a resolution.  It was an amazing revelation of how connected we are and how the Spirit partners with us when we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion and bear the burdens of others.

Seeing these diapers scattered all over the road behind the grocery store launched an entire story in my mind.  I have no way of knowing whether it was a “true story” or not, but that was not the point.  Something was happening on the inside of me and the destroyed diaper box was only the sign pointing the way to the journey that I’m on. Discovering how compassion links us to the work of the Spirit around us and through us.

Compassion for the person who lost their diapers was mixing with the grief of being so incapable to do something about it.  But why do I feel this way?  Why is that I don’t consider praying about things like this as the “something” I’m supposed to do?

Have you ever noticed how most of our prayers (or maybe it’s just most of mine) are totally self-centered?  I can remember several years ago feeling like a girl that I worked with at the time was struggling in some way and being gripped by this same compassion.  I prayed all day but never once for her.  I prayed for myself, asking God to equip me; give me the right words to say; open the right opportunity for me to talk to her; open her heart to receive what I had to say… blah, blah, blah – me, me, me.

This was the trap I was falling in again.  Compassion was churning within me and my reaction was to feel helpless because there was nothing for me to do about it.  This story of the diapers got really interesting almost two months later.  We were at my parents’ house and I overheard my mom talking to my wife about something that had just happened to her that day.  We were living with my parents at the time and the story my mom was telling was one of those no-big-deal-just-sharing-my-day kind of stories.

My mom was telling Sheryl about coming out of a store and seeing a lady in the parking lot pushing her cart back into those outdoor cart stalls.  My mom noticed a big box of diapers still in the bottom of the cart and rushed across the lot to the lady.  She stopped her and asked, “Are those your diapers in the cart?”  Of course they were and this woman was very grateful to the stranger who stopped her from driving off without them.  As I overheard this little story, a quick thought went off in my heart:

“See?  That’s how it works.”

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus tries to get his disciples seeing things through the same compassionate lens as he was.  He tells the disciples to look upon the people as weary and scattered, like sheep that don’t have anyone to watch over them.  Just after calling upon their compassion, he directs them to, “pray to the Lord of the harvest, asking him to send out laborers into the field.”  If you speak Christianese, “harvest” means sinners who need to be saved – “the world” – “the lost.”  But let’s stop limiting Jesus’ words by that meaning.  Jesus was just talking about people, specifically the people around him at the time.

I was moved with compassion by the diapers in the road because he was moved with compassion.  The response that Jesus wants from that exchange of compassion is to pray that laborers – other people – be sent to care for that need and watch over those involved.  Hopefully, I’m communicating the significance of this realization because it has truly changed my ideals about making disciples and starting a church in Northwest Indiana.  I’m not interested in starting a bunch of “ministries” in an attempt to make shotgun blasts at the needs in this area.  I want to equip people to get engaged in the mission Jesus has them on.  But how?  What does that mean?

It is certainly a growing and evolving thing, but the disciple making process really begins by helping people spot the diapers that are scattered across the roads they travel.  There are ways in which we can increase our sensitivity to the signs all around us.  We can become better listeners to the voice of Jesus, urging us to see through his compassionate lens.  Then, we just ask him to put laborers in place to watch over those needs and care for those people.  In many cases, we’ll never even get to know how he answers those prayers, but my mom stopping a lady from driving home without her diapers give me the faith that he does answer them.

This is certainly not the end of anything.  I think it’s just the beginning of the beginning, but it is something I’m very excited to be part of.  Can you imagine how much things can change when we stop trying to manage and maintain the work of the Spirit?  Just let him go, Scott!  He’s good at this stuff and he’s been doing it a lot longer than you have.

Scott Bane is the husband of Sheryl and father of 4 little kids between the ages of 6 and 8 months.  In his day job, he is the Director of Course Delivery for an online school, but his passion is the community of believers he’s serving in Northwest Indiana.  He is also serving as editor of Next-Wave.

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