The Stranger I Wish I Knew and Loved

You never know what can trigger profound pondering. For instance, the sight of a random stranger once did just that for me. I saw him for all of 20 seconds while vacationing with my family. We did not speak, nor did we even exchange glances. He probably had no idea that I noted his existence, and the chances we will ever be in mutual presence ever again are slim to none.

But I felt like I know him well. And I wanted to cry, because he looks just like I imagine a friend of mine might have looked, had he not died some time ago.

I wanted to rush to him, slap him on his back and shout “Hey old friend, how are you doing?” I imagined he’d look to me, lower his shoulders, turn his head, and laugh out loud. Then, he’d say “Gremlin, where the heck did ‘chyou come from?”

Oh how I would have loved to hear more about his life and what he’d experienced since we last saw each other. Sadly, I can’t even remember when or where that was.

Compassion During Low Points

I pondered and reflected all this while sitting with my wife and three daughters while at a hotel continental breakfast. And that might be what made this imagined exchange so peculiar.

I often refer to free continental breakfasts as one of the lowest points of humanity. We gather with complete strangers, jockeying for places in line, fretting over seats, and wishing the hotel would invest in more waffle irons. All the while, we are emotionally taxed by tight timeframes, moodiness of those we are traveling with, changing plans, and so forth. It’s the exact opposite of community.

My friend, on the other hand, was one of the most easy going souls you’d ever meet. He’d step out of line if he sensed you were hurrying. If he saw you getting antsy over waiting on him for a waffle, he’d probably give you his and make a new one for himself.

I reflected fondly and ascribed my old friend’s temperament to that stranger. And then I wished my friend was still with us.

God desires us to live in community, connecting with one another. Too often, we are comfortable being strangers and engaging in the exact opposite of the type of community God desires.

Ambassadors of Light

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.

2 Corinthians 5:20a

The next day, I took two of my daughter’s to breakfast while my wife stayed in our room with our still-sleeping third daughter. The dining area was the typical scene. I got two hard boiled eggs and seated myself at a table across from an older woman who was eating alone.

I prompted the girls to join us after they assembled their plates. Then, I engaged this stranger in friendly conversation. Before we knew it, we were exchanging stories. She smiled while sharing her granddaughter’s sporting achievements and we talked about this and that.

I will never see her again, but I like to think a bit of my friend lives on through me when I emulate his behavior. I know I should be trying harder to befriend those I am near (my neighbor, whom I am called to love), even in the low points of humanity.

Friends, this world is doing more to sharpen our jagged edges than it is to smooth them out. Trenches are forming anew at every changing hour. We are engaged in bunker mentality, making enemies of anyone who is not with us. Simply because they think, look, act, or behave differently than us.

That’s the exact opposite of the type of community God desires for us.

Growing in Community

We’ve perverted the freedom to differ into a matter of hate and intolerance. Our passions lead us into tunnel vision that foregoes the magnitude of God’s great and multi-faceted creations. We’ve neglected our purpose in favor of “my purpose.”

It took all of 20 seconds for a complete stranger to both enter and exit my life. Less than a half minute to spur a cascade of emotions spanning from heartache and grief to hurt and despair, before finding my way to hope.

And that’s really where we should begin. It’s also where we should strive to return.

Not everything must provoke a fight, nor should we pick one with every opportunity. Let’s not wake up in the morning with an agenda requiring us to prepare for battle. Instead, we would be well to love and build up one another.

Let us remember that we have a freedom to disagree. And let us remember that we don’t have to hate those that actually do.

So many people come into our lives and then they are gone. Some may wear out their welcomes, but many others are gone far too soon. Lose not one precious moment. Take time to honor those that make a good impression on your life by showing the rest of the world the goodness they, and God, have graced unto you.

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