Cec, a contractor friend, came this week to fix a few problems that begged for repair. Over time, buildings and equipment sag, split, collapse, leak, stop up, tear out, wear out, or any other manner of decay and decline. Those damaged parts can be equated to the personal issues and conflicts that interrupt my sleep or concentration. All too often, I neglect repair of the discord, rejection, and emotional pain that comes into my life. I’ll make sure the roof or sink gets repaired but I tend to ignore the afflictions that impact my soul and spirit. At first, it seems easier to block out my hurt when I’m ignored or to dismiss a slight from a friend. But the injury remains. I’ve learned it will manifest itself in anger or resentment if I don’t deal with it.
Afterward, Cec and I took ten minutes for tea. That stretched beyond half an hour as we caught up on one another’s lives. Years ago, our kids played basketball and soccer together. Now, his kids are married and he is mostly alone. I asked how he came to America. As he talked, the sadness that he had worn like a garment that morning began to fall off his shoulders. He became animated as he told how he and his wife had come here as refugees from Thailand, with two small children and little more than the clothes on their backs. In hopes of a better existence, they had abandoned everything they knew to re-purpose their lives. Or had they?
I don’t think so. His purposes remained the same—to build a better life for his family. None of that changed though he now lived half a world away from where he was born. Now that his family is gone, he feels they don’t need him anymore. But he needs them. He didn’t say it, but he needs to know he matters. And since he’s alone, he has no one with whom to discuss the daily burdens and joys that make up the matrix of his life.
Yesterday as I walked toward the entrance of the post office, a large man approached, the pain of his existence marking his face like a shield. I surprised myself by saying, “How are you today?”
He ignored my greeting and at first, I felt violated. Has he no respect? I put myself out for him!
Then I realized—it’s not about you, Sam. That man had nothing within himself to give back. How great is his burden of pain, rejection, perhaps hatred. My spirit softened and I felt peace toward him.
The photograph I’m including in this posting is of a woman I saw at a distance in Gulu, Uganda. I glanced toward her several times as she and two other women were apparently waiting for a bus. Not once did she change expression. Knowing the horrors that enveloped that country beginning with Idi Amin and since, I almost weep each time I look at her picture.
For those of you who may be alone—no one to care that you exist—know that Jesus knows of you. His heart breaks for you in your loneliness. He is there for you.
And for you who see those solemn faces occasionally in the daily passage through your day, give them your word of greeting, expecting nothing in return. In some measure, that could be the words of our Lord who said, “When I was hungry and thirsty … and you gave to me …”