I still can’t quite believe that I did this! I’m still not quite sure why that young man spoke to me in the first place.
He came alongside me as I was walking up to our small town with my shopping trolley and he smilingly asked me how I was. I had no idea who he was, but this happens from time to time – I’m a retired teacher and former pupils seem to be better at recognizing me than I am at recognizing them. So I asked him, ‘Do I know you?’ He laughed and told me that we had not met before but he was feeling bored and wanted a chat. Nodding towards my shopping trolley, he asked if he could walk to the shop with me, and added, ‘Tell me to f*** off if you get bored with me.’ I replied,’ If I do I’ll use different words.’
He talked about how he was new to the town and what a terrible town he thought it was, and what dreadful people lived in it. He sprinkled every sentence with the ‘f’ word. He wanted to know details about my life – how old I was, where I lived, if I liked to drink, if I was married. I didn’t want to answer most of his questions, but I commented that I thought I was a fair bit older than he was. He laughed and said that was obvious and told me how old he thought I was, which was six years older than I actually am, so I was not flattered, but I was amused. I also told him that I don’t drink because, although I like alcoholic drinks, they don’t like me, so I haven’t bothered with having a drink for years, apart from a sip on special occasions.
By this time, we were approaching our church, so I told him I’m one of the musicians there, whereupon he told me I was the only posh person he had met in this town. No one has ever described me as ‘posh’ so I wanted to know why on earth he thought I was posh! ‘Well, you don’t drink, and you don’t swear, and you’re religious.’ Aha! Then he said something I have heard several times before, ‘I don’t believe in God’, and I replied with something I have said several times before, ‘ But God believes in you.’
As the supermarket finally came in sight and we were about to cross the road, he asked me if I’d like to hear his story. I said I would like to hear it, but I was a bit pushed for time because I had things to do at home after I’d done my shopping. So I heard his story – as we walked into the supermarket, as we stood on the travellator, in the aisles as I put items into my trolley and he followed me around.
Eventually he asked me, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ After all my years as a Christian, I was surprised to find that I was at a bit of a loss to know what to say for the best. So I responded with a question, ‘Why don’t you believe in God?’ He told me that after all those problems he had had in his life, he had nothing to thank God for because God had done nothing to help him. I said that God does not give us everything we want, and that when He does, we sometimes have to wait a long time for it. I also told him that friends and colleagues prayed for me for a long time before I became a Christian. ‘Why were they praying? Were you ill?’ I didn’t want to give him all the details of my health problems, but I told him that I had been ill and that I collapsed at work. ‘And are you better now?’ I told him I’m OK most of the time, but that I have ‘off days’.
Then I added that it was wonderful that my health had improved, but that what was more important to me was that I became more patient and more thankful for small blessings.
‘Is that what you are telling me? To be more patient and more thankful?’
It hadn’t occurred to me to say that to him, so I told him that only God knew what was best for him, and I asked him if he would like me to pray for him. He nodded and I lay my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him there in an aisle in our busy supermarket.
He became quiet and seemed to be thoughtful and then he said,’ I’d better go now, sweetie. Thanks. sweetie.’
I will keep him in my prayers.
Jesus told us to love our neighbours and I suppose our neighbours are all those we come alongside in the course of our everyday lives. I still don’t know what to make of this encounter, but God knows everything about that young man and everything about me and I believe that God listened to my prayer for that young man and that He will answer it in His way and according to His timing.