We left the massive ship sleeping along the quayside in Sri Lanka at 11 p.m., driving 45 minutes through Southeast Asian traffic to get to the Colombo airport for our 3 a.m. flight.
It took a four to five hour eternity to fly from Colombo to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. An hour and a half to hurry through congested security lines and nauseating perfume shops to arrive at our gate as our flight was boarding.
Finally, I thought, visions of seven hours of sleep and uninterrupted reading and movie watching dancing in my head–a blissful prospect for an introvert after spending the last 10 days working in a floating metal box with 400 other people.
I settled into my middle seat, reaching for my headphones, precious introvert time within my grasp–and a voice comes from the man beside me.
“Hello, there. Coming back from vacation?”
My stomach sank and I resigned myself to a few minutes of requisite small talk with the man next to me. No, I wasn’t on vacation. I was filming interviews for a video I’m making for my non-profit. Oh, you’ve done some video work too?
“Yes,” he said, “I did some stunt work for several movies, most recently Brad Pitt’s movie War Machine. He’s a really nice guy, his wife too.”
I processed this tidbit of information, trying to come up with the proper response to someone speaking so casually of having dinner with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but fortunately a response wasn’t required. He was off.
Oh, no. I mentally groaned. He was, as my mama would put it, “a talker.” We had officially bypassed the small talk stage to the “I’m committed now” stage.
He did, at least, have an interesting life story. We talked (well, mostly he talked, punctuated by frequent swearing for added color, and I nodded) about his military career. About the differences in British and American culture. About how he almost got arrested multiple times. About religion and politics and how Christianity is dead in England because people no longer care (my version, not his).
Dinner arrived, and hope flickered, but no such luck. I escaped to the toilet, but upon my return–the fount continued. I cast a longing glance at my colleague, blissfully absorbed in a movie with his earbuds firmly in place.
Four hours into the flight, my talkative seatmate finally ran out of words. We lapsed into blissful silence.
Now, you have to understand about my deal with God. I’ve been on over 32 flights so far this year. My general rule is that I don’t initiate conversations with my seatmates, but if they initiate conversation I assume God wants me to share my faith with them, and direct the conversation accordingly.
As in previous encounters, I did have the opportunity to share my faith with this man and explain the difference between religion and a relationship with God. I shocked him with my devotion to His principles, especially when it comes to my boyfriend.
I’d like to say that I was overjoyed at the opportunity to share about Christ and was delighted to converse with this man and hear his life story.
I wasn’t. It was inconvenient at best, irritating definitely. I was generally unimpressed with God and His plan for my flight, which was unquestionably very different from mine.
But I’ve found that opportunity often comes garbed in some pretty strange clothes or some pretty rough language. It usually looks inconvenient. It looks uncomfortable. It looks messy. It looks like work.
While this is often true of opportunities in our life, it’s especially true of opportunities God puts in our path. For the Good Samaritan, helping the beaten-up man was expensive, inconvenient, awkward and messy.
Sometimes people’s wounds aren’t obvious. As I listened to this man’s story, I felt God’s heart of compassion nudging my reluctant soul. Urging me to see through the witty comments and tough words to his lonely, hurting, wandering heart underneath.
He only made a brief appearance in the on-going story of my life. I only was a blip in his story. But you never know how God will use you, however grudgingly. Maybe God will use our conversation to spark a change that completely redirects the course of his story.
You never know how your story can change someone else’s story if you let inconvenience stand in the way of opportunity.