That Person Next To You

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I’m as guilty as anyone of being zoned out to those around me while I contemplate what I have to do next or fret about why this line is taking so long. I will admit that I’ve often ignored the person next to me while I took care of my own business. I also want to assert that we’ve got to start noticing the person next to us.

How tempted are we to start thinking in grandiose terms when someone mentions we should love our neighbor as ourselves (a teaching of Jesus!)? I start thinking about the world, cities, the community … and may even be daydreaming about that while there is a person 3 feet from me that I’m not acknowledging.

When Maggy and I travel to the Mississippi Delta to see family, we usually go on the same route. Along that route is a McDonalds restaurant which happens to appear about the same time we need a break! So we have stopped there many times. Yesterday we were taking a break on our way home and an elderly black man sat down near us.

So what was I doing? I never noticed him. I was watching Republican convention coverage on the TV monitor and also thinking about the trip home and what we had to do when we get there. That’s when I heard Maggy say:

“I like your hat.”

That’s all. Simple, sweet, acknowledgment of the human being that was right there near us. That statement broke my ‘concentration’ and I noticed it was an LSU hat. So I joined in and told him we were from Monroe and there were lots of people here who love LSU.

He beamed and said that he had a son that graduated top of his class in the engineering department there. He then added that he had a son that was in the Navy and had soared to the top of the ladder in the area where he served (he called the rank specifically what it was, my memory won’t recall that now). Then he said he had one son that wasn’t worth nothing – but he was smiling as he thought about his youngest. I told him that maybe he’d find his way before long. We complimented him on his parenting skills and he gave all the credit to his wife.

That’s when he told us that his wife passed away a few years ago. And I knew at that moment how important it was for us to acknowledge the person next to us. He wasn’t eating lunch at McDonald’s by himself for the fun of it…nor was he talking to strangers just to be kind.

To tell the truth I was the one who was blessed when we started talking to an elderly black man in McDonald’s one afternoon.

Recently on Facebook I saw a post relating to a meeting at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ near Montgomery. It said in part:

What a blessed time we had on tonight with the Hunter Hills Church Family. A great message from our minister Tim Anderson, Jr. He challenged the audience to start a conversation with some who doesn’t look like you and get to know others.

Simple, but powerful. It all starts with noticing that person next to you. They may need some encouragement or a kind word … but chances are they have something to share with you. We might not be able to fix all of the troubles of the world, but we might be able to ease the trouble of one person near us.

If that catches on, I think something beautiful might be up in the world. No surprise… it’s part of the Jesus Life to which we’re called. He didn’t pass up an opportunity to speak to the person next to Him. Neither should we.

Thanks for reading,  JD.

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