I was lost in my thoughts, ruminating on the misery of the unrealistic expectations a family member had recently placed on me. Surely they could see that their expectations were irrational to begin with and completely unforeseen on my part! Surely they could see that no reasonable person would see things the way they did! How was I going to be around this family member through the awkward silence that ensues when one party feels that their hurt is legitimate, and another feels resentment toward the burden of this clearly illegitimate hurt placed on them? I was planning my scheme of avoidance and, knowing that my thinking was wrong, throwing in an occasional prayer asking God for guidance.
Bitterness was winning my heart through my head at the very moment I first saw Johnny. He was standing on the corner of the entrance ramp to the highway that led to the nearest town, six miles away. He was a strange sight: tall, thin, dressed in a Sonic uniform and roller skates, cell phone in hand. He couldn’t have been more than 18 years old.
My first thought was, “That’s weird. Is he planning on roller skating six miles in this heat, on the busiest road imaginable, uphill the entire way?” My second thought was, “Go ask him if he needs a ride.” Sigh. I hate it when God uses my thoughts against me like that — encouraging me to do something I really don’t want to bother doing — so I drove on. But the thought came again, then again. So I turned around, parked at the church on the corner, got out, cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled over the noise of the wind and the traffic, “Do you need a ride?!”, much to the young man’s surprise.
And, to my surprise, he yelled back, “Yes!” and immediately began skating across the road to me, despite oncoming traffic. Fearing his imminent death, I frantically waved him closer with my hands, as if this would make him go faster.
We climbed into my car and made brief introductions. His name tag gave me his last name and I asked him his first. “Johnny,” he said with a smile.Mostly quiet, but always smiling, he said I could drop him off at the Walmart six miles up the road.
During our brief ride, I learned that he and his stepsisters were in a rap band together, that all of his biological siblings were brothers, that he hoped to get a job closer to home because he doesn’t have a car, that he had been trying to reach his mom to pick him up after work but that she wasn’t answering her phone, and that, two days earlier, he had roller-skated the same long journey home under the same circumstances.
I was angry. I was angry that this sweet kid had no one looking out for him. I was angry that no one seemed to be fulfilling reasonable expectations for this boy. Really, I was angry that Johnny wasn’t being shown love, at least not from my perspective.
But Johnny wasn’t angry. Johnny did not seem to have the expectations that I had. He seemed happy, relaxed and, honestly, joyful. I didn’t understand this. He had every right to be hurt and bitter and angry. But he wasn’t.
When we got to the Walmart, I asked if he would like me to take him all the way home, as the closest housing was still at least a mile away. He said, “Sure, if you don’t mind,” revealing that he had chosen Walmart because he thought that it would be less trouble for me.
When we pulled up to his house, in an effort to ease the pain that he didn’t, even have, I said, “Your mom probably fell asleep. She’ll probably be upset that a stranger brought you home.” But Johnny’s ever-present smile got even wider. “No,” he said. “She’s probably taking care of my newborn baby sister. She just had her. My first actual sister.” And I could feel his joy growing as he said it. With that, he gave me a heartfelt thank you, clumsily swung his skated feet out of the car and joyfully skated up his sidewalk.
I want to be Johnny. Johnny submits with joy to the circumstances in which he finds himself. He considers the circumstances of those around him rather than his own when forming his expectations of others. Johnny was an answer to my prayers.
God is funny. Who knew an immediate answer to my prayers would be an 18-year-old kid in roller skates on the side of the road? Who knew such submission to one’s own circumstances by consideration of the circumstances of others could bring such joy, and that said joy could be so contagious?
And as I drove away changed, I heard these words:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
— James 1:2–4
* Identifying details may have been changed to protect the innocent.