As I was driving home the other night, I saw something that looked like a bat flopping around on the road in front of me on a quiet street. As I pulled over, I got out to find a very large moth that was -for some reason- unable to fly away.
What struck me then was the utter helplessness I felt when it came to ensuring that this moth didn’t get crushed by the tires of the next car. I was not afraid to touch the moth – instead I knew that if I picked him up, I was more than likely to cause worse damage by my touch than I was to help him. I had learned, long ago, that what allows moths to fly is a layer of powder on their wings. I’ve seen it before too. If that powder gets rubbed off, the moth can’t fly any more.
So there I was, standing there awkwardly, trying to figure out how to help a moth out of the road; caught by my understanding of his plight, my desire to help and my inability to do something productive without making matters worse.
As a pastor, I often find myself in similar situations. It’s not unique to pastors, though. Many of us find ourselves in situations like this with people we want to help. Sometimes, there are friends with deep wounds that we don’t want to dredge up in our attempts to help. Other times, we just don’t know how to help, so we try to stand awkwardly close by without knowing the first step to take. Still other times, there are those who are so fragile that anything but the perfect touch will wound them in ways we don’t want to imagine – so we stay away.
Well, I think there’s a secret in what happened with the moth. Maybe it can encourage you too. First of all, the moth was not (ultimately) my problem, I chose to involve myself out of compassion. If we can remember that reality with friends and associates – that peoples’s problems are first of all their burdens to bear with God – it will help us to gain perspective.
Secondly, I realized that I would rather try to help somehow than wait around for the perfect solution to present itself. Sometimes this works out well, other times it doesn’t. For me, that night, I didn’t want to stand outside in the heat for much longer, and I didn’t want a car to come up and risk being hit or seeming like a fool watching a moth in the road. I tried to use a stick to move him gently, but it didn’t work out well. With people, it’s often okay to try to help – even if our help isn’t perfect. If we wait too long to help someone, we might slip into self-protective mode rather than actually loving the person in need. Try to help even with imperfect attempts.
Thirdly, when I saw that pushing the moth with a stick wouldn’t help, I tried to set the stick in a way that the moth could grab it if he chose to do so. When helping people, it’s so important to remember that (most of the time) our help is help, not heroic rescue. Offer the best help you can without forcing your help on a person in need.
Finally, I gave up. After trying for enough time, I gave up and walked back to my car. My gentle nudges, my foot-barrier attempts to direct the moth off the road, and my “see the tasty stick? Grab it and I’ll carry you off the road” attempts all failed. Then, after I gave up and walked back to the car, I saw the moth fly away in my periphery. Some of us have healing gifts and talents, but none of us is God himself. Keeping that in mind is a great way to serve the hurting around us. Remember that the Lord is the healer, not me or you. It’s humbling and sobering to see that our attempts don’t always win the day or gain public approval, but humbled and sobered is a great place to be…even a great place to stay.
Well, that’s my moth story. I did nothing useful. But, maybe the most useful I can be is to pass on some considerations on helping moths to help others help people. There’s a lot of hurt and wounds in this world – let’s lean on each other in pain and even in our learning to help.