I’ve been playing pool all of my adult life, which means countless hours spent in pool halls and bars. I’ve seen a lot of things in those places, but there’s also a lot of things I haven’t seen, primarily because I don’t know what I’m looking at or looking for. Pool halls and bars have earned their reputations at least in part, however, and just because I don’t see the sexual solicitations or the drug sales all the time doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.
But there are also times when it’s pretty obvious what I’m looking at, and then there are times when I’m reminded that I’m not seeing everything I ought to. Not by a long shot.
I stopped in to a familiar bar with the best tables in town up the hill from my house the other day to snatch a quick few games of pool before an afternoon of meetings. I knew a few of the guys playing there, and I quickly got my cues assembled and the balls racked and broke. It was only after a few moments that I saw a girl I didn’t recognize chatting with one of the guys. And as the game progressed I rapidly realized that the man was making pretty free use of her as she sat with her eyes glued to her smart phone. Far more use than a casual acquaintance or even a good friend might, to put it diplomatically.
They disappear to his car for a few minutes and emerge in a haze of marijuana smoke and laughter. But by this time I have to get back to the office. I’ve packed up my cues and am on my way out of the bar, giving my regards to the guys I know and passing the couple as they re-enter the bar. As I exit the cavern-like darkness of the bar into the blinding Central Coast sunshine, fumbling for my sunglasses, I hear a woman calling Hey! after me.
You and I need to talk, she says as I turn in the parking lot to look back. It’s the young woman the guy was with. Her attire is eye-catching without being too over the top. Faded denim jeans and a white t-shirt. Her blond-ish hair has purple tints in it and her make-up is not light. She’s probably in her late 20’s and the scent of her perfume alone is enough to nearly knock me unconscious.
I don’t imagine the conversation will be too long, as there can’t possibly be much to say. Of the three guys at the pool table she was closest to, I paid her the least attention (by far!). I assumed she just wanted to make sure I properly acknowledged her vanity, as it should have been obvious that I wasn’t interested in her services.
Are you really a priest? I mean, a real priest? I assure her that I am, indeed, a card-carrying minister, realizing that the guy must have filled her in on that detail for some reason during their time together. She’s taking her time now, sizing me up. We’re blocking traffic in the parking lot so I move us out of the way. I’m in a slight hurry, and not interested in playing around conversationally or otherwise. But at length she asks What church? I tell her the name and where it is. She hasn’t heard of it. Not surprising, I think to myself. I start to search for a business card to give her. My dad died a couple of months ago, and I’d like to think he’s with you. When I look back up at her face she has tears on both cheeks that she’s wiping away. I hope he’s with God, I respond after a stunned second.
In the bar I first saw a young woman who was so jaded in life that she didn’t care how men used her as long as they noticed her. Then I saw a woman supporting herself with that attention and exploiting it. What I had failed to see – in part because I didn’t want to pay too much attention to her – is someone lost.
My work in the recovery community has taught me a lot, but the one thing it has to keep teaching me over and over again is something that my faith taught me but is difficult at times to bear in mind. People are more than the sum of their circumstances and choices. They might be a train-wreck of addiction and crime and moral degradation, but it isn’t who they are. It isn’t all they are. And given the right circumstances and situations and the power of God the Holy Spirit, even the most monumental of train wrecks can be repaired. The tracks cleared, the rubble swept away and a life of promise and possibility stretching into eternity put in place.
I hadn’t seen that with this girl. So perhaps God the Holy Spirit sent her after me to make sure that I saw it. I went to my car to search for a business card and brought it back to her. By this point she was standing by a beat-up car lighting up a pipe of marijuana. I recognized the young man in the car as someone who had been sitting at the bar earlier, and surmised it was her boss. I handed her my card, wondering what he thought of the whole thing and realizing he probably didn’t think anything of it. I wasn’t likely going to upset their arrangement.
I wasn’t. I’m not. But God the Holy Spirit, that’s another matter. That’s a daugher of God the Father I was talking to. That’s a woman The Son of God died and rose again for. And while I may not want to look at her too long or bother to get involved too deeply, the Holy Spirit of God is after her. He can do what I can’t. He can lead her away from the pipe and the pimp and the random encounters in darkened bars in midday. He can find the lost and lead them home and I pray that’s what happens with her.
It was a good reminder of the power and purpose of the Gospel. One of the key reasons God gathers his people together, so that the Word might go out and reach the lost. So that He might bring them home – the very people we don’t want to look at to closely or be seen talking to in the bright early afternoon sunlight of a busy parking lot. It’s not a comfortable place to be, but it’s a necessary discomfort for somebody. Perhaps even me.