August 1, 2019

Am I in the Way?

If I'm honest with myself, I stepped off the sidewalk not just to avoid physical contact, but to avoid being engaged.

Jimmy Phillips

"I’m sorry I’m in your way.”

I stopped so suddenly that the leather sole of my dress shoes scuffed audibly against the coarse pavement. I turned around to address the man who had aired this falsity.

“You’re not in my way. I just didn’t want to bump into you.”

Somewhere to Be

It was my second week at Kettering Health Network (see my column in Adventist Review, June 2019). But in the world of health-care marketing, there is no time to get up to speed; you just grab on to the moving vehicle, hold on tight, and hope for the best.

On this particular day we were filming a television commercial for Kettering Brain and Spine, our neurological center of excellence located next to the main hospital. Between filming I popped down to the cafeteria for a quick bite with an old friend. Realizing that I was a bit late in getting back, I picked up the pace to the highest level of appropriateness for someone wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. As the sidewalk narrowed, I noticed a man about 10 steps in front of me, walking with a slight limp.

If I’m honest with myself, I stepped off the sidewalk not just to avoid physical contact, but to avoid being engaged.

I had somewhere to be, and he didn’t.

So I did the polite thing: I stepped down off the curb so as not to startle or bump into him. As I glided past, he apologized unnecessarily.

“I’m sorry I’m in your way.”

He might as well have taken my briefcase, got a running start, and wacked me over the head. That’s how stopped-dead-in-my-tracks I was.

“You’re not in my way. I just didn’t want to bump into you.”

This was the truth, on the surface at least. But if I’m honest with myself, I stepped off the sidewalk not just to avoid physical contact, but to avoid being engaged. After all, I had somewhere to be. But looking into the weathered face of this man (who I later found out was my age but looked about 20 years older), I knew my meeting could wait.

The words started pouring out. Release from recovery after surgery, but still in pain. Worried he wouldn’t have a job because “factories don’t care about a doctor’s note.” Paying almost $1,000 a month in child support for two kids who live right here in Dayton but whom he hadn’t seen in two years. Going through a divorce. No direction, no hope.

I listened, offered words of encouragement, and spent a few minutes praying with him. As we departed, he said how grateful he was that we’d bumped into each other, and that “he was going to think about me all day.”

Yay me.

Because here’s the thing: the very thing that happened is what I was trying to avoid. The only reason we even started talking was that he apologized to me.

How often am I exactly where God wants me to be, but too busy focused on where I’m going?

How often do I avoid human contact, for fear I’ll get sucked in?

How often is a divine appointment right in front of me, but me and my schedule get in the way?

God, I’m sorry I’m in Your way.


Jimmy Phillips is network marketing director for Kettering Health Network.

Jimmy Phillips
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