Not too long ago, I had a hefty glass of orange juice before heading out to meet the guys. Then when I got there, I ordered my usual. The conversation was good so when my brain received the warning from my bladder, I figured I still had a few minutes. You know, I hit the snooze button. When the alarm went off again I excused myself from the group and headed to the bathroom toward the back of the bookstore.
It was locked.
"No bro," said the barista-beatnik from behind espresso machine, "we don't have a key for the bookstore toilets; do you really think they'd let us have one." The alarm went off again.
Out the door I went.
Hitting Main Street, I figured there would be a good number of restrooms for my use. The first one had a sign reading "For building residents only." Ignoring the sign, I grabbed for the doorknob. Locked; no light on under the door. The next place had a key code on the door and the doorman wouldn't give me the numbers to unlock the room. Another place had one of these key code entry systems too; maybe made by the same manufacture and maybe with the same code.
The alarm went off again and by this time I was three large blocks away from the coffee shop where I started. Dancing the pee-pee dance into a business building I noticed an older man working a small coffee cart. Behind him and slightly to the left was a men's restroom and yet there was another key coded door. In my business shirt, tie, and slacks, I begged him to let me use the restroom. I might have been holding my crotch like a three-year-old. I don't remember. Not understanding my urgency, he explained that the codes were to keep transient people from using the bathrooms. "If you don't give me the code the to bathroom," I pleaded with the man, "I'm going to be forced to urinate in your planter box." He gave me the code and I shouted a thank you as I ran into the bathroom. (I considered buying a cup of coffee from him in appreciation, but my still pulsating bladder argued me out of it.)
But this is more than a story about a dude and the verge of wetting his khakis. This is a story of understanding needs.
Living in America, with a job and a house and cable TV, it becomes easy to forget that people have needs, real needs. For many, the idea of need is having to replace your iPhone headphones before getting on the evening train. Just the thought of not being able to listen to music, being forced to sit in silence or strike up a conversation with the stranger in the next seat is enough of a need to motivate you to get over to the Apple store on your lunch break. You need to replace your headphones, right? I am just as guilty, if not a little more. But there's something about the fear of peeing your pants, standing outside a locked, empty bathroom that brings the idea of need into crisp focus.
Now, imagine not having eaten for a day or two and sitting right outside Starbucks. You see people casually reading a paper, nibbling on a seven-dollar pastry, sipping a twelve-dollar cup of chocolate soy foam. They get up to leave and toss the remaining half of the pastry in the trash; $3.50, right in the garbage. Imagine you haven't bathed in nine days. Imagine it was 37 degrees last night and you slept on a metal bus bench with only two windbreakers and a bath towel to serve as blankets and a pillow. You have no warm water, no internet, no car. You don't have a cell phone in your pocket and you will not be having that dinner party this Friday night. Do you think you might have needs?
The Bible talks about caring for the less fortunate. (Here's an example.) But this post is not about getting you to run down and serve at the Rescue Mission or buy a lunch for Elmer, the guy living on the bus bench outside your office. No. These are good things, but as you're reading this on your phone or at work, it is my hope that you think about what you really need and what you covet. I'm working through this daily and it is not easy. While living in America is a great blessing, it can be a black curse to correct thinking.
In a letter Paul wrote to the Philippians, likely from imprisonment, Paul says,
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).It is my hope and prayer for you and for me, that we might learn, as Paul did, to be content in the highs and lows, plenty and hunger, and in abundance and need. But please realize that I am not arguing that we should do nothing to meet our actual needs; because if that were true, I would've saved myself the time and trouble and just peed my pants. Instead, I am encouraging you to think about the difference between need and good old-fashioned American want. . . . There is a difference, really.
* "Toilet" Photo is registered under a creative commons license: