Have you ever been lonely, even in a crowd? Your loneliness may even be more intense around other people. They are all laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company, while you stand watching, not knowing a soul. But then someone steps up to you and begins a conversation. The whole world takes on a more pleasant character.
Loneliness is one of the most difficult ordeals of life. Few if any escape it entirely. And who hasn’t at some point been the outsider, the one who doesn’t quite belong. “Who’s she?” or “I’ve never seen him before,” they seem to be saying, if they are taking any note of you at all.
Jesus takes the matter personally. He said, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35).
Marcia and I set up our lawn chairs behind the rows of other spectators on Market Square Mall and sat down to wait for the play to begin. The Tennessee Stage Company performs various Shakespearean plays through the summer on a donation-only basis. That night was Romeo and Juliet.
I noticed the middle-aged man sitting by himself on a bench near our chairs. He looked clean, respectable, intelligent—but alone. I was not in a mood for conversations with strangers, and I had the company of my wife. I’m sorry to say that I did not speak to the gentleman. Rather, he spoke to me.
“I see you’re waiting for friends.” We were. “Did you intend them to sit here on the bench? I can move. I’m not even staying for the play.” He was waiting for someone, and seemed a little ill-at-ease in this crowd. His strong British accent was unmistakable.
“Oh, no,” I replied, “You are not in the way at all there.” He seemed pleasant enough. Marcia asked, “Alright, I detect an accent. Where are you from?” The ice was broken, and the conversation began.
Peter seemed pleased that we would be interested in his background. He was from the London area. Further conversation revealed that he and his wife were in town to help their son get started in school on a scholarship at the University of Tennessee.
Every question we asked he was delighted to answer. His responses laid bare his unvarnished admiration for the United States of America. “I bought my son a car today. The dealer let us drive it off the lot immediately. Did you know that in England you have to wait a month to receive a car after you purchase it?” And, he added, “You Americans have no need to tour the rest of the world. You have anything worth seeing right here within your own borders.”
He was particularly intrigued that our daughter and her husband would be seeking an appointment to India as missionaries. “The only way I can explain it,” I was privileged to tell him, “is that the Lord is convicting them to go.”
We enjoyed talking to Peter. And it cost us nothing to make him feel a little less like a stranger.
When Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Samaria, He took the time to speak to a woman at the well of Sychar. She was a Samaritan, a woman, and immoral, all reasons for a good Israelite not to talk to her. Even her own people rejected her because of her checkered past. But Jesus not only talked with her, He accepted her. Repentant, she turned to Him in faith.
The next time you attend a ballgame, a church fellowship, a school or family reunion, or whatever, why not intentionally look for the person who seems out-of-place or lonely and seek to befriend them. There are plenty of reasons not to—that person is an outsider or immoral or of lower social standing or simply “not like us.” But none of those reasons stopped Jesus from inviting in the stranger. And when we show such kindness, He takes it personally.
If I ever get to take my dream trip and visit England, maybe I’ll run into Peter over there. And whatever the setting, I suspect he’ll try to make me feel welcome.