I was queuing in the bank this morning, in a long and slow queue. The elderly gentleman in front of me was frail and bent, with the raw-pain look of the seriously ill. There was a chair nearby and he sank into it gratefully, telling me in a near whisper that his garden needed rain, a lot of rain, but that it was good to see the holiday makers enjoying the sunshine. As the queue started to move on, inch by inch, I said that I would move with it and call him when I was at the till, but he waved a gentle dismissal. He had come in to the bank just to sit down for a moment. He was very softly spoken, and my hearing isn’t the sharpest, plus he was Welsh with the halting speech of someone who rarely speaks English, and I am English with no Welsh at all, so we could barely understand each other. I started to read Isaiah 53 on my phone, to pass the time. He looked at it, and raised his eyebrows. I showed it to him and he smiled. The queue moved on. When I finished at the counter, I turned to ask him to come for a cup of tea, but he had gone. I went into the street; no sign of him.
And now I find myself thinking of him, wondering where he lives, what his life is like, is there anyone to take care of him? Is he loved? Could I have reached out to him? Is that why we met this morning in that busy place, and did I fail to mine the moment of its possibilities? I think so.
I wonder if he’s one of the thousands of very elderly and fragile people in this little corner of Wales, who live independently, solitary, dignified and lonely lives. We see them, mowing their lawns, weeding the flower beds, cutting the hedges, almost denying their fragility, men and women who have come through a world war, through depressions, recessions and times of plenty, through love and loss. This chap was carrying a small tub of creosote so I suppose he was going to paint a fence today, or maybe kill some ants. Some job, anyway. I can’t get him out of my mind, this stranger, and it’s struck me forcibly that this little bent man is God’s infant, as helpless as any new-born.
Whatever has happened in his life, whatever he has achieved, whatever joys and sorrows, he is as helpless as a little child. As we all are. We can dress our lives with the frills and flounces of achievement and busyness, of our strength and stubbornness and independence, but we are God’s children, as helpless as any little child. No matter how good we are at planning and scheming, and however judicious and wise we are, we are not in charge. Just this week we were reminded in a sermon that Jesus asked ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’
No, we can’t. We are helpless. That would be a terrible realisation but for the knowledge that we are loved. A helpless child in a desert, on a cliff top, in a fire…. tragedy. A helpless child in the arms of a loving parent….. happiness.
You know what’s haunting me? The thought that maybe that elderly gentleman, not far from death, may not know how much he is loved. He may not know that the love of Jesus Christ is for him, that God loves him with the tender love of a father.
I had the strangest experience yesterday – we all have situations we struggle with, and I came across one such. As I walked back to my car, I said to my God ‘ I’m so thankful that you love me.’ and as clear as a bell I heard, in my mind’s echo chamber ‘Then why don’t you live as if I love you?’
One of our greatest obstacles to joy and peace is knowing, and understanding, real-ising, that we are loved by love Himself, by God. And that nothing can shake God’s love because He is unshakeable – what can shake Him? Totes nowt, my chickadees. I say that God’s love is real to me, but do I real-ise it? Do I know it to be real and live accordingly?
Looking at that bent old head in the bank today, at that thin neck, the boney hands, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that God loves this man, loves him so much that He sent his beloved Son to make sense of life, to save him from himself, to bring him home, to safety and to eternity. Had he heard?
But when I turned around he had gone.