17-year-old Evan* was a frequent guest at the local coffee shop where I worked part-time the summer before staring grad school. Passionate about philosophy, anime, and Swedish death metal, he would sit at the bar and talk the ears off of anyone who happened to be on shift. He seemed to have difficulty recognizing social cues and would try to hold his listeners’ attention, even if they were busy helping other customers or keeping up with barista duties. My co-workers and I recognized that he was a desperately lonely young man, but we didn’t want to admit that the kindness we showed him came from a grudging sense of obligation.
The truth is that Evan was a lot.
One day, I was closing the shop on my own. 10 minutes before I would turn the sign, Evan came in. He sat at the bar, ordered coffee and way too much food, and then proceeded to talk. I was as irritated by his insensitivity to shop hours as I was nervous about being in the shop alone with a teenage boy. I did my best to hide this attitude, however, and carried on with closing tasks.
His hair grew past his ears. He wore an ill-fitting hoodie over a mismatched polo shirt, and he was making a mess on my freshly-cleaned counter top. At some point, he asked me to name my favorite authors. Looking up at him from my work, I am ashamed to say that in the moment I felt contempt for the human being in from of me. Deciding to avoid prolonging the encounter, I shrugged and said I didn’t know before turning back to cleaning — hoping to send the message that he should leave. Evan looked disappointed, but he ate the rest of his food and eventually went home.
Looking back on that day, my heart is cut open with a deep conviction of my own hypocrisy. For so long, I have advocated kindness, compassion, and understanding for those who need it. It would be all too easy to make excuses for my behavior and appeal to my own issues, but the truth is that God gave me someone to reach out to, and I missed the opportunity. I wish that I had set my own priorities aside to see Jesus in Evan. Perhaps if I had gotten to know him, we would have both learned something from each other.
As far as I know, Evan went to college and stopped frequenting the coffee shop. Not knowing where he is or what he’s up to, I can only pray for him. It is difficult knowing that I failed Evan in a meaningful way, but I try to remember that my role in his life is over and God’s plans for him are bigger and better than anything I could accomplish. It is my prayer that Evan will someday tell his story in a beautiful way.
If there’s someone that you need to reach out to, don’t wait. Don’t make excuses. Do it today. More importantly, make an effort to be kind to all who cross your path. The people who need us might be tempting to avoid, but the smallest act of brotherly love can make all the difference.
*Name of the subject changed.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.