While working at a hotel, I had many opportunities to interact with people from every walk of life. On occasion, my interactions would become somewhat personal; more than just checking someone in for a night, answering frequently asked questions, explaining how to adjust the TV in their room, or helping them find the best place to eat. Some of those encounters turned out to be, what I refer to as, God-moments; divinely orchestrated opportunities allowing me to let my light shine, by offering some encouragement through a friendly word of hope, helpful words of wisdom, or a light-hearted, humorous perspective to an otherwise frustrating circumstance. These moments always developed seemingly out of a practical need of a guest, however, I usually didn’t realize it until after the fact.
I remember one unique encounter with a stranger that transpired on a quiet night when I didn’t have much to do. It began with a plea for help, followed by a casual conversation which turned into serious moments of confessions, contemplation, laughter, and tears.
This particular guest had come to the front desk to ask for my help in successfully placing her take-out order. She explained to me that the phone in her room didn’t seem to be working, and she was frustrated because all she wanted to do was eat some pizza and relax. Looking at her with a puzzled expression, I proceeded to ask the normal questions I would have asked anyone in this situation. Through the process of question asking, it became clear to me that there was something else going on “under the surface”. This guest-in-need, who quickly professed our new-found friendship, appeared to be trying to hide a wounded soul and an aching heart. My questions led to a somewhat relaxed confession from her, “I’m sorry. I’ve actually had too much to drink…maybe that’s the real reason I’m having trouble with the phone.” We both laughed, and I told her I understood and would be glad to help her out. She handed me her credit card and asked if I would order her a medium pizza with everything on it. “Do you think a medium will be big enough? Have you had dinner yet? Are you hungry?” she asked. “No, I’m not hungry, but thanks!” I replied.
I dialed the number to the pizza delivery place while she stood by patiently waiting and smiling. With the order placed I hung up the phone, handed her credit card back to her, and told her it would be about 30 minutes. “Should I wait for it here?” she asked. “You don’t have to,” I explained, “You can go to your room if you’d like, and I can tell the delivery person where to bring your pizza when it arrives…It’s completely up to you.” She decided to stay in the lobby and wait.
After a few minutes of waiting in silence, a conversation began. Wanting to explain to me the reason she had too much to drink earlier that evening, she described how she had spent the day in an uncomfortable, heart-wrenching situation she would have rather avoided because she knew the painful past that she had been running from for the past eighteen years was going to come rushing in, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. “My grandfather passed away and I came back for the funeral,” she began, “I moved away when I was twenty years old, and I haven’t been back since. I haven’t talked much to my family since I’ve been gone, either. I’ve just been busy living my own life, trying to forget the pain of my childhood.” She continued to tell me how she had spent all day trying to pretend that everything was fine, and trying even harder to convince herself that the things of the past couldn’t hurt her anymore. However, it was obvious as she told me her story that the pain was still very real, and being around her family trying to avoid all the uncomfortable questions was more than she was prepared to deal with.
I mostly listened, offering a sympathetic smile now and then, and only speaking words of support or understanding where I felt they might help. I empathetically offered examples of my own painful past, and we connected on similar hurtful situations that we both had experienced. As I shared some of my memories, she would occasionally reach out grabbing my hand in excitement as she realized that I could relate.
As I listened to her sharing parts of her life with me, she would unleash certain words and vulgarities that I would rather not hear, but never once did it ‘offend me’ or cause me to try to end our conversation. I just listened. Because, in that moment, I came to realize that it wasn’t just about ordering a pizza for a stranger. It was about letting a stranger know that someone cared enough to listen and that someone else knew and understood, at some level, that life is hard at times, and, at times, life just doesn’t make sense. It was a chance to encourage her with the truth that although life can be hard, and sometimes painful, it’s never so difficult that we should quit or give up. I wanted to speak words of comfort that might give her hope and possibly help her sleep in peace that night. In a somber moment, she looked straight at me and said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this, I usually don’t open up this way, especially to strangers…but, you have such sweet eyes, there’s a kindness in them, and yet a strength. I know that you have experienced a lot of pain in your life, but it has made you stronger….”
Then she suddenly blurted out, “OH! I just need to give you a hug!” And, she did.
In fact, we hugged several times during our conversation, and also shared laughter and tears. Yes, I know the alcohol probably had some influence over her words and actions, but I also believe that the kindness of a stranger at just the right time can be the perfect remedy to a soul in need.
Before the pizza arrived, I had the opportunity to share with her that God was the source of the strength she could see in me, and the hope in me was available to her as well. “Bad things happen in this world and evil does exist,” I explained, “but Jesus can heal our deepest wounds, fill our hearts with His amazing Love so that we can forgive others who have hurt us, and give us hope as we continue living, knowing that one day all of these things won’t matter anymore.”
She thanked me for listening, for sharing, for caring, and for making her laugh. After she signed the receipt for her pizza and thanked the delivery guy, she gave me one more hug and said, “Stay strong and keep smiling!” As she hurried off to her room, I wondered if she would remember our conversation, I was hoping that it wouldn’t just become a blur to her, but that maybe it would be the beginning of her finding healing and reconciliation, and that she might even consider continuing to seek this hope that I spoke of, instead of continuing to run from her past.
Later that night, as I was alone and thinking about something she had said, a smile came to my face as I realized that it wasn’t really me that she was so comfortable ‘opening up’ to, but, in fact, the very One who is able to bring true healing and wholeness to her soul, the One who dwells inside of me and gives me strength, hope, and love for others. It was because of my own experience of painful circumstances that I could connect with her, and it was through my own healing that I was able to offer words of hope and comfort. Because I decided to let Love guide me, and because I chose to be sensitive to the needs of another, I was able to be a living example of what I believe. As I considered my encounter with a stranger, this thought came to me:
“If you’re really going to love people, you can’t be offended by them; if you REALLY love people, you love them right where they are…in all of their ‘mess’.”
Suddenly the words found in 1 Corinthians 13 rang true to my heart, “If I could speak all the languages of men and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy to understand God’s secret plans, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. I could give everything I have to the poor and even sacrifice my body, but if I didn’t love others, I gain nothing.”