The woman in the booth across from me met my eyes in an empathetic exchange. I had no idea who she was, but as she paused from lifting her fork, her silent communication indicated to me that she had a greater understanding of our situation than most.
We rarely have the luxury of eating out, but it’s a necessity when traveling or on a day crammed full with appointments. On one of those rare occasions, we stopped at a place with a large salad buffet. Eating buffet style is an added complication for someone who struggles to navigate his way across a room. It requires me filling LeRoy’s plate for him.
LeRoy’s Physical Therapist has him using two forearm crutches to help with his balance, so both of his hands are already full with gripping the handles of these large metal walking aides. He told me the other day, that when we’re out in public, people stare at him—but mostly with pity. It’s a strange new sensation. LeRoy’s always been a handsome, capable, strong and athletic type of “man’s man” and pity from strangers isn’t something he’s ever had to receive.
Each time I filled LeRoy’s salad plate and returned to our table, the woman in the booth gave me a comforting smile—not a rude glare or toothy grin—but a smile that seemed to come from that place of knowing the path of suffering; a smile that met me in that place where the fellowship of suffering brings comfort.
While we were waiting for the check so we could get back on the road, LeRoy made his way out to our car and I stood at the table trying to catch the waitress’s attention for our bill. My eyes again landed on the smiling woman in the booth, about two decades older than me would be my guess. With LeRoy out of ear shot, she asked me, “How did he lose his ability to walk?”
This deeply personal question, coming from a stranger, didn’t strike me as rude or intrusive, but as sincere concern. I stepped closer to her booth and briefly explained LeRoy’s condition. Without a trace of embarrassment, she explained, “I’ve watched your face and the pain you feel as you watch him struggle. I understand that pain. My husband lost his leg ten years ago in a work accident at the lumber mill where he worked. He’s in the hospital again now, with pneumonia.” She poured out her decade long saga of sorrow in just a few sentences.
Suddenly, it all made sense. She understood, that’s why she was able to offer me a smile that was rich with comfort and care. But it was more than just another care-giver empathizing with me. Her next sentence explained it all, “I’ve been sitting here praying for you.”
And that’s when the tears overflowed, spilling down my face and onto my hand that was now reaching for hers.
I sat down across from her in the booth. By now, LeRoy had made his way out to our car, and although I knew he was waiting, I also knew he wouldn’t mind me taking a moment with this precious woman. I asked her name and asked if I could pray for her husband. And there we sat together. In an out of town restaurant, two who had never met, but who were deeply connected, not just through the fellowship of suffering, but far more importantly, through the fellowship of the Spirit. Tears were making a small pool on the surface of the faux wood tabletop as I interceded for this precious woman and her husband, and as I closed my prayer, she started hers. She prayed for us both with one who has walked this road for more than a decade. It was a gift.
Throughout this journey into foreign territory, God has planted His emissaries all along the way.
He reminds me of His presence and His care through these who communicate His love, His compassion, His grace, at points of time when we most need it. He’s remained faithful to His character, He’s not forsaken us.
Never has this Scripture been more of a reality for me than when this precious woman reached out to offer her prayers for us:
[box]Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3–7)[/box]
And that’s what we’re asking Him to do through us. We don’t want to waste this season, but truly desire to learn all He wants to teach us, but also to take what He’s teaching us and use it to comfort and encourage others. We desire to comfort those in affliction with the comfort He’s given us.
May you do that today as well. Reach out to that suffering friend, family member, or stranger, and offer the comfort of our Father of mercies and God of all comfort.