“I don’t know if you’re religious or not…”

I remember standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. It was one of those rare occasions when either we had worn my mom down enough or the sale was good enough that we were able to get the mini boxes of cereal for our morning breakfast. As my younger brother and I stood there with the saran wrapped boxed in our arms after we had carefully checked out which ones had the most Frosted Flakes, we came back to the grocery cart to find my mom speaking to a woman. She was telling my mom about her family and her kids.

As they finished their conversation, we put the coveted mini boxes of cereal into the cart and I asked my mom, “Did you know her?”

She responded, “No, she just needed someone to talk to.”

That wasn’t the first or last conversation like this one my mom had with strangers. It happened in the post office line, at the drug store, at the curb at church, and in the carpool line at school. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was also training to be a minister.

Now, I found myself having those same conversations in the checkout lines, getting gas, and picking up groceries. Oftentimes, the conversation comes to a place where the person says:

I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but…

Sometimes I reveal my identity as a minister, most of the time I don’t because the person isn’t looking for me to be a minister in that moment. Instead, that person is looking for someone to see him or her and to hear the stories of his or her life. It’s lonely living in world where we constantly transact with each other, but hardly ever interact with each other. The internal voice that drives us and haunts us is not something we often want to reveal, but every so often you run into someone who is safe enough to reveal that inner person to. To be that person takes time and energy and the willingness to protect and take care of someone else’s story.

May we all see and hear each other a little more clearly.