Note: This event occurred prior to my injury. In a time of confusion and loneliness, I wandered into an unfamiliar church. I sought a bit of peace in a sea of turmoil. I found a good deal more.

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” Exodus 23:20

Singing. That’s mostly what happened in Sunday night church. Familiar songs, though I hadn’t attended church since high school. Someone selected a hymn and everyone sang accompanied by a piano.

About fifty people were scattered in the first few rows; apparently only hard-core religious types went to church twice on Sunday. The person choosing the song often requested prayer or shared an experience. They discussed intimate personal issues freely and sometimes quite emotionally. Obviously these people were involved in each other’s lives.

I sat alone in back, fighting the urge to leave. Their comfortable familiarity and my self-imposed isolation enhanced my loneliness. I’d created one more place where nobody understood my haunting fear.

Later I’d understand the peace this group enjoyed as they sang and talked together. I’d learn to come on Sunday night and let the presence of God and His people lift me up.

But that night I couldn’t appreciate what transpired before me. Their cozy little warm-fuzzy-fest made things worse. Why should they float in peacefulness while I drowned in despair? Why were they surrounded by friendship while I sat alone and hopeless?

People began drifting to their cars, arranging to meet for coffee while I desperately awaited my opportunity. The last group left and he moved toward the parking lot. I wanted to run into the night, but fear and despair overcame embarrassment. As he opened his car door I stuck out my hand awkwardly.

“Hi, I’m Rich.”ired before me. Their cozy little warm-fuzzy-fest made things worse. Why should they float in peacefulness while I drowned in despair? Why were they surrounded by friendship while I sat alone and hopeless?

Church wasn’t helping, and now the imaginary conversation I’d rehearsed in my car was falling apart. I’d convinced myself to approach the pastor, but the leader that night was a substitute. I watched him closely as he spoke for a few moments, meaningless words about foreign notions that couldn’t ease the haunting unrest.

He seemed sincere enough, and these people felt comfortable with him. Maybe he could help, at least fill a portion of one lonely evening. I had to try something; I couldn’t return to that bleak apartment.

Small groups gathered outside after the service while I hid in the shadows watching the leader. Whenever one person walked away, someone else stopped to chat. Approaching him alone appeared impossible.

“Hello, I’m Hank. I saw you during the service.”

“Yeah. Um–do you have some time to talk?”

Indecision flashed across his face. He was headed home to his family or to meet someone else. His day was done.

“Right now?” He wanted to put it off, and I almost replied No, that’s okay, maybe another time that’s better for you. But I’d finally reached out, and I needed to grab something.

“Yeah, if you can. I’m having a tough time. I need to talk to somebody.”

Eternity balances on the small moments God uses to modify the course of a life. Frequently such choices appear innocuous, but you look back and wonder what might have been if the coin had flipped differently. Life-altering episodes usually aren’t the anticipated epic events that in retrospect really aren’t so important.

This guy probably encountered many people “wanting to talk.” I’ll bet he frequently weighed the urgency of a particular request, whether prior plans assumed priority, and when a situation required him to change course.

I don’t know how he decided that evening–perhaps a waver in my voice or considerable experience reading troubled faces–but somehow he concluded that this appeal shouldn’t be postponed.

“Okay. Can you wait while I make a phone call?”

I swallowed the urge to say Please, don’t change your plans. No big deal.

This night was a big deal.

So this stranger walked back to the church to use the phone, to tell someone that tonight I needed him more than they did.

This is an excerpt from
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance