Following morning worship I drove straight to the grocery store. Short on time, I was on a mission. One of my children would be starting a six-hour drive in another hour, and I was determined to give her a healthy lunch before she hit the road. My goal was to be in and out of the store in 15 minutes. I grabbed the shopping cart and moved quickly toward the bakery. I threw a loaf of ciabatta bread in the cart and scratched it off my list.
As I whipped my cart around to rush to the produce section I spotted a familiar shock of white hair. Even from a distance I knew who it was. I had chatted with this man a year or two earlier in this same grocery store. He was pushing his cart away from me and I made no effort to follow him. After all, we were not even real acquaintances. Our relationship was a professional one; I had been his wife’s nurse at the time of her death several years ago.
I continued my shopping in the produce section and then headed to the back of the store for one last item. I glanced at my watch and gave a mental fist pump. I was already in the home stretch and was going to make it out in the allotted time. Success!
But as I cruised past the dairy products I once again spotted that white-haired gentleman with his cart now facing in my direction. Although I was headed straight toward him, his head was turned to the side as he scanned the selection of cheeses. I kept my eyes straight ahead as I began to move past him. I soothed my conscience with the thought that he probably wouldn’t remember me anyway. And then I heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit encouraging me to slow down. I checked my watch again. It was decision time. Keep moving or take a detour? Was this an interruption or an opportunity?
Leaving my cart, I stepped across the aisle to greet him. I spoke his name to get his attention and he turned his head to look at me. His eyes showed immediate recognition and he reached out his hand to grab mine. Right away his eyes filled with tears. Oh, he remembered me all right. As we chatted he shared with me how much he continues to miss his wife of 57 years. He relayed that he has taken a few widows out to dinner, but only for one date. Shaking his head he said, “I don’t know. I just feel like they are cheating on their husbands.” Or more likely, he feels as though he is betraying his beloved Shirley. He talked about his great loneliness and the long, empty days. I remembered that as his wife lay dying, I had stood near her bed and prayed with him. Now, I reminded him that God loves him and cares about his pain. He nodded in affirmation and acknowledged that God has been good to him. I invited him to attend a worship service and he took down the information. We chatted for ten minutes or so, and I hugged him as I said good-bye. He squeezed my hand as I left him and thanked me for stopping to say hello.
As I headed for the checkout, my steps had slowed to a reasonable pace. Those lost ten minutes were enough to change the plans I had had for lunch, and at any rate, it no longer seemed important. I knew that the leftovers in the refrigerator would be adequate.
My brief conversation with this man had quieted me. I had seen a glimpse of a love that had endured more than half a century, and felt challenged to continue to pour myself into the union that God has given me. Could I find fresh ways to bring delight to my own beloved? But even more, I am grateful for the mysterious ways that God works. How, in the face of heartache and loneliness, does someone continue to affirm the goodness of God? I believe it is the mark of a life which has experienced the love of God.