It’s not every week that I make a grown man start to cry.
Especially not a British one, who’s basically a ‘familiar stranger’.
But it just so happens that I did exactly that, not too long ago – and as it turned out to be a typical “light through the cracks” sort of story, I thought I would share it with you here.
My home is blessed with an open fire. It’s a feature that I love, especially in the depths of winter.
It means I can curl up on the sofa, with a mug of hot tea, mesmerised by the flames in the grate, while the wind and rain howl a gale outside.
But it also means I have to keep the chimney swept. At least once a year. Just in case. Otherwise, if the chimney catches alight, my house insurance would immediately be invalidated.
My chimney sweep is a jovial middle-aged man, who can usually talk for England.
Let’s call him Clive*.
It’s been almost a year since I last saw Clive, and he has clearly lost weight. He’s also more muted than usual.
Even when he does his customary ‘trick’ – attaching a huge black brush to the end of a long bendy rod, shoving it up the chimney, urging me to head outside and gaze up at the roof, while he works magic to make the head of the brush poke through the top of the chimney stack – his smile seems to be in short supply.
Sorting out the paperwork to pay him, I feel an oh-so-familiar surge of courage and compassion rising up within me.
“Is everything OK with you, Clive?” I ask him, “You seem really quiet compared to usual.”
He bites his bottom lip, hesitating, and then: “No,” he says, “No, everything isn’t OK.”
Before I know it, a sad and sorry story comes pouring out … About how his brother has taken his own life, and how he feels so angry that he wasn’t able to say goodbye, and how much he misses him. About how it came too soon after the death of their dad. About how he’s struggling to keep his business going through the dark, dank months of winter, and how part of him wants to walk away and give up.
I sit in silence, occasionally nodding, actively listening, wondering how on earth any one person is meant to cope with so much heartache in such quick succession.
As he comes to a natural pause in his monologue, I pluck up courage. I also feel profound compassion towards him.
“I’m not sure whether you’re aware, but I’m a Christian,” I tell him, “and I believe that God can comfort you in your grief.” I take a deep breath before continuing. “Would you like me to pray for you?” I ask.
His face crumples and tears trickle down his cheeks. “That’s so kind,” he says, his voice muffled. “Yes please.”
Taken aback at this grown man crying at my kitchen table, and at his openness to prayer, I pray a simple prayer out loud, asking Jesus to comfort Clive in his grief.
He is looking down at the table cloth throughout. But when I say “Amen”, he looks up. “Thank you,” he says, and then: “My grandma used to go to church when she was alive. She would often pray with me and my brother.”
Now I understand why he thought my offer was “kind”.
As he gets out his card machine and I make payment, and as he gathers the papers into a pile on the table, I suggest that he, too, could pray to Jesus. He looks baffled. “It’s like a conversation,” I say. “Why don’t you give it a go?”
When Clive gets up to leave, I hand him a copy of my book and encourage him to read it. “It contains ten true stories, which will show you what happens when people pray,” I tell him.
He seems touched, and tears well up again from deep within him.
As he carts his kit out to the van on the road, I become acutely aware that it will be a year until I see him again. So I find myself praying that God will put other Christians across his path in the coming months; that they will add to my prayers for him; that he will know he’s not alone in his grief …
How many of us, in any given week, cross paths with a person who is grieving? How many of us even notice? How many of us could be the one God chooses to use to bring his “light through the cracks” to that person?
The next time you encounter someone like Clive, why don’t you ask God to give you courage and compassion to pray for them? The worst that can happen is that they decline. But you also never know. Maybe that person will thank you for your kindness and let you pray with them!
As ever, constructive reflections are welcome in the comments section below.
*Name changed to protect identity.