I was in London last week and had a couple of hours to kill before catching my train home. So with book in hand, I nestled myself into the corner of a snug little coffee area and got stuck into my book and cup of Chai.
I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping (usually) on strangers’ conversations, but my ears started to zone in on a couple sitting at the table next to me. From what was being said, I gathered they’d met online and this was their first date.
They were both going for the ‘reveal-all-the-baggage-up-front’ approach. He, working through a divorce after a long marriage with a woman who’d never made him happy, she, never married, working in a dead-end job she hated, living in a mice-infested house share and generally feeling like a social misfit.
As the chat continued, their mutual life misery continued to be unravelled to my snooping burning ears – he had run out of money and while his former marital home was being sold, he was moving back home with his parents. Meanwhile, she was having an identity crisis, believed she’d never get a better job as she was ‘too needy’….and on and on in that vein.
The conversation veered from depression to commitment (no, he never wanted to get married again…yes, she could see herself settling down) to religion.
“I met this other woman online,” said the chap. “She was just my type, beautiful, a doctor, really intellectual, an Atheist….none of this spiritual crap…”
Gal enthusiastically agreed, “oh yeah, I can’t stand all that stuff.”
(My ears were truly burning by this point).
“I was raised Jewish…but it was just a thing, you know, never really connected,” said he.
The chat then moved onto self help books. She’d read this great book
about 100 ways to find happiness. Oh yes, he’d read it too. They paused (and under my eyelashes), saw them give each other a glum look. The book hadn’t worked.
“But still…” Said he. “I’m in a better place now that I know I’m unhappy…before, I didn’t know it”.
“That’s the path to enlightenment” said his date, suddenly getting quite animated. “If you know you’re unhappy, you’re on the path to being happy”.
They both paused and sighed.
“I think we’ve both got something missing in our lives…” She said. He agreed. “Nothing has ever been able to fill it….there’s something just not there.
Sudden clearing of throats and scraping of chairs, as they suddenly hit their emotional intimacy quota for the night.
“Do you want another coffee?” said he.
“Yes please, double vanilla shot”.
I dithered for a moment, contemplating whether I should strike up a chat, somehow work my story into it. But I thought better of it…and besides, who likes an eavesdropper?
But the truth is, they were only verbalising what so many others are thinking. Religion, self help and romance had been tried and found wanting. They were now (roughly) in their mid-40s and what was the point to it all? Sailing on a directionless ship, hoping someone might save them.
And for me, that’s the difference of the Cross…it’s about direction. It’s not about finding a solution to all of life’s problems or never suffering fear or sadness, it’s about knowing which way to turn, when the whatsits hits the fan. The Cross gives me meaning and hope, even if I’m in the middle of despair. It’s that thing to hang on to, when nothing else makes sense.
Perhaps I should have told this couple? But then again, they’d probably have dismissed me as a nutjob. I do often wonder though, why people around me will try absolutely anything; ancient Eastern writings, health farms, magic stones, chanting and more – anything but Jesus.
Is this our fault? Have we misrepresented Him? Made Him look so wimpish, his followers so insipid, that He’d be the last place anyone would turn? It’s true that when religion (or Christianity) is talked about on TV, it’s always pictures of dreary churches and rather unglamorous looking souls, often talking about things which are wholeheartedly irrelevant.
And yet, the frustration is, the message of the Cross most definitely is the answer.
Perhaps I should have spoken up. Perhaps by not saying anything, I contributed to this crazy cycle of my culture believing that Jesus has absolutely nothing to offer them.
In all honesty, they may have been annoyed at my stealthy earwigging, but it’s likely, that if I had spoken up, they’d never have forgotten their first date.