Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Poor, Wayfaring Man of Grief

In our ward, it is a tradition, at the beginning of the year, to have a special sacrament meeting. After the sacrament is passed, the meeting is opened for anyone to come up and request a hymn, often telling in a few sentences why that hymn is special to them. The congregation then sings the hymn, and someone else gets up and requests another hymn. It is a truly enjoyable way to spend the Sunday after Christmas.

One of the older gentleman in our ward requested that we sing all seven verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”, which is one of my favorite hymns. I have had the opportunity to sing all seven verses, and I often think about the Prophet Joseph in Carthage Jail. But this time somehow I found myself thinking more about how I would have reacted in the specific situations described. Shelter from a winter’s storm, sharing a scanty meal, binding up wounds—and all for the “poor, wayfaring Man”. The way it is written in our hymnbook capitalizes the “m” in “Man”, making it clear the stranger is Christ in disguise, as indeed is made obvious in the stirring final verse. The imagery and meaning of the verses, when this is considered, is beautiful and precious to me.

But on that New Year’s Sunday, I found myself thinking of the scripture this poem is inspired by--Matthew 25:31-40.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Have I been doing “these deeds” for others in the name of the Savior? I pay my fast offerings, do service projects, try to fulfill my calling. But I don’t know if I am doing enough—-those things don’t seem to capture the feeling of the song. What about the homeless man I passed outside the store in Phoenix during Christmas break? What about the hitchhikers we saw as we were driving home in November? What about the man sitting in the library last Friday, obviously homeless and trying to get warmed up before the library closed at six?

On the other hand, what about personal and family safety? What about my responsibility to my children? What about the mortgage we are trying to pay down, the expenses we are facing in raising a family? I know the Lord wants me to take these responsibilities seriously, but He also wants me to serve others. How do I balance them?

Just what is my responsibility to the poor, wayfaring man who often crosses me on my way?


  • This is something I think about often. My Dad graduated from high school in the late 60's and he hitchiked across the country. I recall at least once when I was a kid and we ran out of gas and we had to hitchike to the gas station. My father also used to bring home hitchikers and they would stay the night sometimes or they would eat something. While my father was not a member of the church (or perhaps not even a Christian, not sure) I always thought that his attitude was Christlike.

    Because of this example, I nearly always pick up hitchikers. I must say that there have been a couple of times where I didn't think it right to pick them up. Also, I have never picked anyone up while my family was in the car. Partially because there was no room.

    Your point is well taken though. In the town I live in, we occasionally see someone with a sign on the corner. If I have any change, I usually give it to them. The problem is that these days, I use my debit card. Perhaps I should keep change with me for this purpose...

    By Blogger Ian, at 1/09/2006 12:08 AM  

  • One more thing, I love that song. I prefer that all versus be sung. It brings a tear to the eye.

    By Blogger Ian, at 1/09/2006 12:09 AM  

  • I also often wrestle with this issue. As a young (youngish, anyway) woman I'm usually too afraid to give to people on the street. I'm lucky enough to has a husband who also has a desire to give and who often keeps change in his pocket for just such occasions. I'm proud of him when he does it and I'm proud to think that it was our funds that did it. But I also wish I was brave enough to do it on my own.

    I have given people money. Once, on an impulse that had me laughing and crying at the same time, I gave a homeless man about two hundred dollars. I saw this man every night as I left the train station and that night I simply couldn't walk past him with a full wallet, dreaming of the pizza I would order when I got home. I kept enough money for my pizza and gave him everything else I had.

    Another time I saw this man and went into a local quick (though not fast) food restaurant. I bought him two containers of beef noodle soup. I hoped that the broth and noodles would help him without being too much for his malnourished system.

    Those are some of my most treasured moments of generosity. I can't seem to do it anymore. Maybe it's because Japan (where I used to live and where these instances happened) is a safer society than North America. I don't know.

    I want to be safe but I think of the verse that says "he that loses his life for my sake shall find it again." Maybe I just need to work on my faith... if God still has work for me to do, He won't let some random crazy keep me from doing it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/09/2006 12:06 PM  

  • Thanks for commenting, Ian and anon. I was hoping that this post would generate some comments--the final question is genuine: just what is my responsibility? I'm grateful for the examples you provide, and for your thoughts on this subject.

    Anon, you make a good point. The Lord did say, "he that loses his life..." Maybe I need to give that scripture more consideration in my life. But I'm scared that it won't be my life that is hurt. What about my children? (Look at the Elizabeth Smart case.) It's a debate I'm still having with myself.

    By Blogger Keryn, at 1/09/2006 1:07 PM  

  • I remember that the hymn was much longer in the good old days. Here's the version I had.

    I miss some of the old words to the hymns, such as "the world has not use for the drone."

    A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

    A poor wayfaring man of grief
    Had often crossed me on my way,
    Who sued so humbly for relief
    That I could never answer, Nay.

    I had not power to ask his name;
    Whither he went of whence he came;
    Yet there was something in his eye
    That won my love, I knew not why.

    Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
    He entered—not a word he spake!
    Just perishing for want of bread;
    I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,

    And ate, but gave me part again;
    Mine was an angel's portion then,
    For while I fed with eager haste,
    The crust was manna to my taste.

    I spied him where a fountain burst,
    Clear from the rock—his strength was gone,
    The heedless water mock'd his thirst,
    He heard it, saw it hurrying on.

    I ran and raised the suff'rer up;
    Thrice from the stream he drain'd my cup,
    Dipp'd, and returned it running o'er;
    I drank and never thirsted more.

    'Twas night, the floods were out, it blew
    A winter hurricane aloof;
    I heard his voice, abroad, and flew
    To bid him welcome to my roof.

    I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest,
    I laid him on my couch to rest;
    Then made the earth my bed, and seem'd
    In Eden's garden while I dream'd.

    Stripp'd, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
    I found him by the highway side;
    I rous'd his pulse, brought back his breath,
    Revived his spirit, and supplied

    Wine, oil, refreshment—he was heal'd;
    I had myself a wound conceal'd;
    But from that hour forgot the smart,
    And peace bound up my broken heart,

    In pris'n I saw him next—condemned
    To meet a traitor's doom at morn;
    The tide of lying tongues I stemmed.
    And honored him 'mid shame and scorn.

    My friendship's utmost zeal to try,
    He asked, if I for him would die;
    The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,
    But the free spirit cried, "I will!"

    Then in a moment to my view,
    The stranger started from disguise:
    The tokens in his hand I knew,
    The Savior stood before mine eyes.

    He spake—and my poor name be named—
    "Of me thou hast not been asham'd;
    These deeds shall thy memorial be;
    Fear not thou didst them unto me."

    By Anonymous Floyd the Wonderdog, at 1/09/2006 1:35 PM  

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