Things in life are often a double edged sword.
Family events are wonderful, but not the prep work.
Home cooked food is yummy, but time consuming.
Great paying job, but responsibility overwhelms.
Politeness is graceful, but creates estrangement.
OK, so that last one caught you off guard, right?
In a culture of tenseness, it is tempting to mumble a polite response and just keep moving rather than engaging with strangers and risk emotions splashing on you. Let me give a personal story that taught me a lesson.
I was in a store buying canning items that have been seriously discounted. Looking and loading up on everything I think I will need for the next harvest season while thinking of how tired I am. Another lady walks up and begins to gather what she needs. She comments wearily that these are good prices. I agree and even point out an item on an upper shelf (I am taller) and hand it to her. I have been polite. Even helpful. It is certainly acceptable to stop the interaction with a smile and to go about my business.
But there is a big problem. This lady seems grieved to me—sad countenance, almost numbed and lifeless. I can acknowledge it or not. Certainly I need to be on my way; I need to get to the rest of that to-do-list. But I couldn’t shut down my questioning brain. “What would Jesus do? Would he just be polite or would He choose to engage?”
I forced my introverted self to engage—to pry at the risk of emotions and or perhaps being perceived as rude or maybe even insulted; I am, after all, a stranger.
What would you do? How would you start?
“Ma’am, I may be out of line, but you seem sad to me.” I jumped right in. “It’s none of my business, but I want you to know God loves and cares about every detail of your life-and I am so sorry that sounds like a clique- but it’s true.” I gently smiled. The tears were already trailing down her face.
She proceeded to tell me she had just returned from burying her only grandson, who she had raised for the past couple of years. Long story short, he had been killed by a drunk driver.
“I am so sorry for your loss. So tragic. How old was he?” I inquired.
“Seventeen and a senior in high school. He was doing well in school too.” She answered.
I know many grandparents are raising their grandchildren so I probed a bit deeper as I looked at her through my wet eyes.
“Can I ask…why you were raising him? Typical teen issues or did something happen to his folks?” I asked, surprised at my boldness. Why was I even asking this?
Now the flood gates opened wide. “What have I done!” I thought.
She explained that her son, the boy’s father was in prison and the mother was off somewhere unknown. She had taken custody with her son’s conviction.
I again expressed my sorrow at her situation as I told her I worked in a men’s prison as a teacher. She mumbled through tears that she hoped her son got the help he needed.
In boldness, I asked one more question, “What is your son incarcerated for?”
She caught me off guard when she answered.
“He had a drinking problem for years, DUIs and fights and such,” she whispered, as new tears started, “he killed someone while driving drunk and now this.” For a moment she was swallowed in her tears and I was shocked to the point of dumbness.
I hugged this complete stranger and mumbled a brief prayer with her. (Yes, I asked first.) I assured her that I would continue to pray for her situation. Even as I write today, years later, I pause to pray for this lady, still with tears remembering her pain.
As we parted, she briefly smiled and said, “You have made my day brighter. Thank you for noticing my sadness and for caring.”
Please no applause. I simply acknowledged what I thought I was perceiving in another human. I chose to pause. I chose to engage. I chose to get out of my comfort zone. It was a very small gesture on my part—but made a big difference to this lady. At first it wasn’t polite. I was prying, right?
In that pause she went from feeling unloved and broken, to being amazed that some stranger would acknowledge her pain—and that God would orchestrate it to be a someone who worked every day in a men’s prison, with people who made the same mistake that cost her grandson’s life and a portion of her son’s life. Isn’t that uncanny?
My Christian friends, can it be that we are not winning the cultural wars because we have chosen politeness instead of engagement? Jesus often went out of his way to engage individuals. He spoke to the heart of the issue. We might say He always went for the jugular!
Not that I always do. I am often rushing or simply not in the moment. Often.
But I seek to have this be my habit. I want these encounters of a divine nature. For myself and other humans. So far I have yet to have a nasty response. I open the door pleasantly and follow the other person’s lead. For me, it is choosing to take my light out from under the bushel and letting it shine. It is a step of faith, but it brings wonderful connectedness and stories.