I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help overhearing her pain, frustration, and determination. The lady I sat down beside in the busy terminal was obviously troubled.
As I took a load off and tried to find my boarding pass, she said into her phone, “You don’t need to give her anything! After all she’s put us through, you owe her nothing. All she wants to do is take your money. This is what she does! She doesn’t communicate for weeks or months on end and then she goes and does something stupid like this. I’ll be glad when these proceedings are over. Gotta go. I love you too babe.”
She sighed. Turning to the gentleman on the other side of her she quipped, “It will be great when she’s out of our lives altogether.”
Thirty minutes later I’m on the plane.
“How are you today?” I asked the person in the window seat.
Looking at me with sad eyes and trembling lips, she said, “I’m having a horrible day! In fact, today was one of the worst days of my life. I had a hearing today to try and win custody of my daughter, and the judge said she will continue to live with my ex.”
“I just don’t understand. I left him because he and his friends brought drugs and prostitutes into our home. I serve in the Navy in Norfolk, and I think the judge doesn’t want to give me custody because I go on deployments from time to time.”
“I’m just so frustrated I could cry.” And then she did.
Just that moment another passenger walked up and said, “Excuse me sir, I think you’re in my seat.”
I glanced at my boarding pass. Realizing my seat was two rows forward I grabbed my carry-on and awkwardly shuffled into the aisle. Looking back at the grieving mother, all I could say is “I promise you’ll be in my prayers.”
While situating in the correct seat, I caught the mother’s eye. She looked desperate for hope.
As the flight took off I reflected on my two encounters, considering all the hurt in both families.
In one situation, a husband seemed to have left his wife for another woman — a woman who was encouraging the man to not give his ex-wife a single dime. Brokenness. Anger. Resentment.
The second encounter was even more distressing as a mother mourned not seeing her daughter, and feeling like the child was in an unsafe environment, all while honorably serving our country. Confusion. Shock. Anguish.
Our world longs for restoration and redemption.
Ebola. School shootings. ISIS. Social stratification. Immigration. War. Washington gridlock. Disappearing flights. School children kidnapped and murdered. Gaza. Ukraine. Police brutality. Ferguson. The list can overwhelm.
With so many enormous issues demanding our attention, crying for justice, and filling our airwaves, it can be easy to forget the heartache and brokenness in our everyday, waiting-in-the-terminal-and-sitting-in-the-wrong-seat lives.
In our ministries, we should not focus so much on the pressing issues of our world that we forget the hurting families in our own congregations. Many travelers will enter our churches this Christmas Eve, weary from journeying to see relatives — perhaps even more weary from life itself.
Marriages fracture. Friendships tear. Medical bills pile high. Fathers and sons endure estrangement. Mothers long to hold their daughters at night, even while facing the possibility of military deployment. As we call for justice concerning a litany of issues in our world, let us not lose sight of the everyday hurts of those around us.
The intimate hope of the incarnation is that God enters into our own personal messes.
Many of our favorite Christmas songs joyfully anticipate and proclaim Messiah’s birth. The themes are often soaring and joyful, retelling the biblical narratives of Christ’s birth. One of my favorite verses from any Christmas hymn ever (“It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” verse 3) is more deeply personal, and more profoundly appropriate for some:
All ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
There are people all around us who feel crushed by life — people in painful circumstances.
This Christmas Eve, is your church a place for weary travelers to rest and hear the song of the angels?