It’s interesting to consider the number of strangers we encounter each day. On the tube or bus, in the street, at work, shopping, out and about. Fleeting glimpses, passing faces. And for each one, there is a life; highs and lows, events, crises, exam results, broken relationships. We can have no idea of what they are all living through, what personal tragedies are being endured.
Ironically, for some of us, it is easier to tell the stories of those tragedies to complete strangers rather than to those we love and trust, and as a musician going into different churches, I am often the ’stranger in the room’ for whom it is my privilege, in quiet moments, that heart aches might be revealed and prayed for. Sometimes these personal tragedies can leave me breathless.
One such story that has recently been shared with me was that of a woman who had been systematically abused from five to fifteen years old by her violent and drunken step-father. The story was shocking and distressing in so many ways; betrayed trust, manipulative harm to one who had no chance of defending herself; the brutalizing of innocence.
What was most distressing was the revelation of how a child can be made to believe that they are responsible for the evil that is perpetrated on them. And, in this case, that perceived ’responsibility’ has continued into adulthood, to separate her from her family and her friends and to give her such a deep and entrenched self loathing that she doesn’t feel ’worthy’ enough of God’s attention to be able to pray for herself.
Her story made me angry, appalled and sad in a way that, hitherto, I had never experienced.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. Something came to me out of her tale that has stayed with me and taught me a new lesson. It’s the importance of the kindness of strangers. In the desert of her childhood, among the fear, the abuse and the isolation, were small tales of the kindness of virtual strangers.
The people who lived up the road from her house, who recognised her on meeting again, years later, and told her of their anxiety for the sad little girl she had been, and of their ongoing prayer for her. The head mistress who, presented with a disgraced six year old, in trouble for the theft of a bar of chocolate, who, rather than being angry, just cuddled and comforted the distressed little girl, holding her until the tears went away.
Acts of kindness of varying sizes, each of which had its own effect on particular days. Hope in the darkness.
But, for all of us, our daily view is so inward. We are so inclined to look no further than our own problems, anxieties and social networking sites, in spite of the fact that each of us could have such a positive impact on so many others, in so many ways.
A friendly word to the girl on the till in the supermarket, (ask her, you’ll find that she is largely ignored); the offer of help to someone who is struggling with their bags in the street or at the railway station; quietly paying someone’s bill when you can see it would make a big difference to them; talking to the homeless guy on the street, finding out when he last ate, and getting him (or her) a hot drink and something nutritious to eat.
We live in a world where we spend too much time texting on our phones to have any real clue of what’s going on around us, and what difference we, personally, could make. To receive something as small as a sincere and friendly smile or an encouraging word can genuinely change someone’s day for the better; and its always a two way thing – when we think we are bringing kindness and healing to others, God uses it to bring healing to us.
So, let’s consider the number of strangers we encounter each day. On the tube or bus, in the street, at work, shopping, out and about. People to whom we are complete strangers, but who are living through all kinds of personal tragedies, and for whom a moment of help or a word of encouragement could go a long way.
Let’s break out of our personal safety zones. Let’s give God an opportunity to reveal Himself through the kindness of strangers…
To reveal Himself through the kindness of people like each one of us.
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