It was the 49th birthday of one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, and she found herself greatly distressed.
Her despair was rooted partly in the fact that she was on the threshold of turning 50 and partly in her concern over what she could do to make a difference in the lives of those who are faced with suffering and misery in this world.
Searching for answers, Anne called her minister and asked her: “What can I do to ease the suffering of the world?” to which she replied: “Help those who are suffering right here, where you are.”
And so that morning Anne prayed a very basic prayer: Lord help me to find a way to be helpful today.
I’ll let her take the story from there:
After praying that prayer a couple of times I drove to the supermarket to buy my birthday dinner. I flirted with everyone in the store especially the old people, and I lightened up. When the cashier finished ringing up my items, she looked at my receipt and cried: “Hey! Lucky you! You’ve won a ham!”
I felt blindsided by this news. I had asked for help to be helpful — not for a ham. What on Earth was I going to do with 10 pounds of salty pink eraser? I rarely eat it. It makes you bloat.
A bagger was dispatched to the back of the store to fetch my ham. I just wanted to go home, so I could start caring for suffering people, or at least turn on CNN. But for some reason, I waited. If God was giving me a ham, then I’d be crazy not to receive it.
Finally the bag boy handed me my ham — and with a fake smile I put it into my grocery cart and walked to the car trying to figure out what on Earth I was going to do with it.
I was so distracted by my thoughts that I crashed my cart smack into a slow-moving car in the parking lot.
I started to apologize and then I noticed that the car was a rusty wreck, and that an old friend was at the wheel. We got sober together a long time ago. She opened her window.
“Hey,” I said. “How are you — it’s my birthday!”
“Happy birthday,” she said, and she started crying.
She looked drained and depressed and after a moment, she pointed to her gas gauge.
“I don’t have money for gas or food. I’ve never asked for help from a friend since I got sober — but I don’t know what else to do.”
“I’ve got money,” I said.
“No, no, I just need gas,” she said. “I’ve never asked somebody for a handout.”
“It’s not a handout,” I told her. “It’s my birthday present to myself.”
I thrust a bunch of money into her hand — everything I had.
Then I reached into my shopping cart and held out the ham to her like a clown offering flowers.
“Hey!” I said. “Do you and your kids like ham?”
“Omigosh … we love it,” she said. “We’d eat it for every meal if we could.”
She put [the ham] in the seat beside her — firmly, lovingly — as if she were about to strap it in. And then she cried some more as she drove away.
Reflecting on that parking lot encounter Anne Lamott says this: “In the blink of an eye [my soul] went from parched to overflowing all because [I paid attention to] the ham of God.”
I love Anne Lamott. I love her spirituality. And one of the vital take-aways from Anne Lamott’s story is the importance of learning to pay attention to the little nudges of the Spirit that I believe we get each day. I believe that God puts us in position every single day to do the little things that can end up making a huge difference in the lives of those around us.
You are surrounded by family members, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, who could benefit from the gift of your time, from the gift of your kind and thoughtful words and occasionally, from the gift of your ham or your money — to make a huge difference in their life.
Your seemingly little deeds and words can be just the thing that leads someone closer to God.