The restaurant was buzzing; groups were backed up at the door waiting for a table to empty. Large screen TVs flashed multiple sports events on every wall. Music, talking, and laughter rolled through the room over and over with no break between sounds. It felt like walking into a party, except I was alone and it looked like everyone else in the room was having a wonderful time with someone. I was tempted to turn around and walk back out in search of a silent drive-thru with fast food, but I stayed. I didn’t want to stay but I felt like I needed to.
There were seats at the bar where I could perch to eat a much-needed meal between my meetings. If I picked my seat strategically, I would be alone at a corner with a group of women nearby. It looked safe enough. No sooner had I sat down than the women left to be seated at a table, which had come available. There I was, a middle-aged woman, sitting alone at a bar wondering how fast my food would arrive and trying to remind myself that I had chosen this because of a sense I was supposed to.
Be assured my brain was speeding through the various reasons why this was a crazy situation. Then my reason for being there arrived in the form of an unemployed welder. I have done enough business travel to know how to look busy with a phone when alone in a restaurant. I have perfected the art of not making eye contact. I have developed the ability to give off prickles. The sports channel on the overhead screen was fascinating and I did my best to throw off prickles as I questioned how I had gotten myself into this predicament.
My food arrived and he seized the chance to open conversation. Turns out he really liked what I ordered. I responded politely and engaged the female bartender in conversation, hoping that would be the end of further attempts. He wasn’t having any of it. Finally, I realized he was the reason I was supposed to be there.
I didn’t want him to be my reason. He was lonely. He was opinionated. He entertained conspiracy theories. He was quite obviously unhappy but trying hard to not be unhappy. He freely shared his broken dreams with a total stranger. He was everything I didn’t want to be around. But as he talked, I was struck by the thought that here was a person who was exactly whom Jesus would have sat beside and talked to. I was ashamed of my revulsion and decided for the half hour of my life this was taking, I needed to ask God to help me have the attention and heart of Jesus.
All I had to do was be kind, listen, and periodically throw in a simple question. I didn’t need to agree. There was no cause to disagree either, or attempt to alter his views. I only needed to be present. He asked what I did for work and shared his views on management. Nod, chew and swallow. Soon enough I would go back to my life. Maybe for a few minutes his would feel less lonely. I pondered whether to wish him a Merry Christmas. As I slipped down off the bar stool I said, “I hope you have a Merry Christmas.”
He said, “I hate Christmas.” And all the emphasis was on the word hate.
Without any hesitation, I responded, “I love Christmas. I have some grandbabies to spoil so it’s fun.”
His demeanor softened. All the hard angry edges that I witnessed in our brief conversation, dropped away. I looked him in the eye with as much compassion as I could muster; I wanted him to feel what Christmas is really about if only for a moment. He said, “Having someone around like grandkids, would change things.”
That was it. I heeded one of those crazy feelings, did something really uncomfortable and now I was walking to my vehicle with tears on my cheeks. I knew the word for this week’s Advent was Love. My encounter was a reminder. Not everyone loves Christmas. The walking wounded surrounds us. We are called to make our world a better place to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to be love. Don’t be anything less than love this week.