Twenty years ago, I attended graduate school while holding down a full-time job. To complete the program within the allotted three years, one summer class each year for the first two years. The summer semester crammed 16 weeks of study into eight weeks, so I elected to take my two least favorite courses during those summers, thinking to lessen the pain.

One of those classes, statistics, required more study and concentration than any course I’d ever taken. The final exam counted as 40 percent of my grade, and going into it, I knew I had to do really well to pass.

Besides studying extra hard, I wanted everything to go smoothly on the day of the test to eliminate any additional stress or distraction. This was before online courses; I lived and worked in New Jersey and the campus was in New York City. Getting to school from my workplace involved a drive, a train ride and a transfer onto a subway, with parking and walking in between. There was at most a 10-minute margin for unexpected delays between leaving work at 4:30 p.m. and the start of class at 6:10.

On the day of my final, after parking and climbing the stairway to the elevated train platform, I nearly ran into a very old, frail woman hanging onto the railing with both hands.

“Excuse me, but could you help me get to my taxi?” she asked. More than anything, it seemed like she needed someone to keep her from being swept away by the bustle of commuters pouring down the stairs.

“Of all the days for this to happen,” I thought, but at that moment I found myself in the exact spot to help her. Hardly anyone went up those stairs at that time of day to take an inbound train, and somehow as she and I stopped on the same side of that wide stairway, the stream of passengers began diverting in an arc around us.

As I slowly backed down in front of her to prevent her fall, she told me she was returning from work and was very tired. Looking at her, I could hardly believe that someone her age still had to commute to a job. As I helped her to a waiting cab, she mentioned that she had nothing to eat until she got paid on Friday, which was a couple of days away.

It wasn’t much, but I handed her the bag lunch I would have eaten before class, then asked the cab driver about her fare. “It’s OK, she pays monthly,” he said.

As I turned and headed back up the stairs to brave my dreaded statistics exam, an inner voice spoke to me saying, “That was the test.” I stopped in my tracks as my eyes filled with tears — I had just faced a far more important test! What I learned that day about the things that matter to God has been of greater value to me than any university course.

This article has undergone ministry review and approval.

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