I have the incredible opportunity to travel several times each year. My travel is sometimes related to mission and outreach opportunities. Other times, I travel for continuing education and leadership development. Although I hate being away from my family for any amount of time, and almost equally dislike all aspects of traveling by air, I love being in airports.
Weird, right? Here’s why…
There are always so many different kinds of people in airports and I am so curious of their individual stories as I watch all the “ants marching.” Every single person has a story and one of my favorite activities in life is learning people’s stories as they move from stranger to acquaintance in my life. The airport and airplane becomes a great context for striking up a conversation with someone who is seemingly random until I discover a connection. I just love it.
I was recently waiting in a crowded terminal and, feeling a bit like cattle must feel just prior to a milking, I noticed that some of the other passengers were forced to sit on the floor. Along with always being curious of people’s stories, I also try to keep an eye out for opportunities to relieve an immediate burden for someone around me; which many times opens the door to the opportunity of moving someone from stranger to acquaintance. Seeing such an opportunity, I got up and offered my seat to a women who was sitting on the floor.
Although she declined my offer, I remained standing and eventually she struck up a conversation with me. She asked why I was traveling. My answer led to other questions; which I and answered and then returned. Soon enough we were learning parts of each other’s story.
This wife and mother-of-two was traveling to assist her father in providing post-surgery care for her mother. We continued to chat while waiting for the premium platinum gold first-class fancy ticket holders to board and she began telling me about her two children…a 4th grader and a 6th grader. After sharing in some lighthearted conversations about rearing children and joking about the battle of wills that occurs between parent and child, she told me about an experience that raised a new fear in her life.
Her heart was recently troubled, because a group of parents in her children’s school and in their church had recently viewed a short film detailing the drug epidemic in our town’s schools. Interestingly enough, we recently covered this topic in a teaching series at 801South where we try to speak to relevant topics already on the hearts and minds of people, especially those people who are in the demographic we feel called to reach.
Often times people will ask me how I determine the topics on which we should be teaching and preaching. Well, this is it! The act of listening to people’s stories without any hidden agenda gives me one of the best opportunities to understand what God might want us to address with a message of hope. There was a pain within this woman that I could hear in her voice. This struggle was on her heart at a level so deep that she shared it in an initial conversation with a stranger. I believe it was a gift to have a glimpse into her heart while she strives to make the best decisions as a faithful wife and mother.
I encourage my leadership team to keep an ear out and make note of the conversations they are having at work, at the ballfields, in the neighborhood, and at the gym. I ask them to join me in being intentional to listen to the struggles, pains, and joys of those around us. This listening has led to some of the most fruitful moments in our large and small group environments.
How can you be more aware to relieve a burden of someone around you…and maybe have the opportunity to move that someone from stranger to acquaintance?