Angels Unawares

I don't mind traveling by airplane; I rather enjoy it, despite some slight anxiety when there's turbulence. 

I enjoy flying because there's little to do once you're in the air.  You have few choices as to how to occupy your time.  You can read, write, listen to music, sleep, or (on many airlines) you can watch a movie. 

These are all things that I love to do, so it works out. 

What I don't love to do on a flight is strike up conversations with my seatmates.  As hard as it is for some of you to believe, I'm an introvert. 

I'm what might be classified as an "extroverted introvert," I suppose.  This means that I can seem like an extrovert when you encounter me in most situations involving interactions with others, and I do enjoy those moments.  I also crash afterward and need some time to regroup. 

So when I have a chance on an hours-long flight to tune out the world, bury myself in a good book, write, journal, and listen to music while doing so, it's like heaven to me.  

Luckily, most people hold to the same ethos, which also works out.  

But occasionally, there will be a chatty person in the seat next to me who isn't interested in spending the flight the same way.  

They see those particular moments as a chance to get to know someone new, to find out about the other person's life, to share photos of their grandchildren and pets, and to try to find something they have in common with their fellow travelers so they can have a meaningful conversation. 

Usually, all I have to do to shut all that down is to put in my AirPods, open up my Kindle, and give all the signals I can that there's a "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging on the seat between us. 

But occasionally, some folks ignore all that and start tugging at my sleeve after a bit, itching to talk. 

Most of the time, I can find ways to keep the chit-chat to a minimum, but sometimes it's impossible.  I've learned that in those moments, it's best to surrender to it because, obviously, something is going on that I'm supposed to learn or someone I'm supposed to help.  

God has a way of putting people in your life when you really need to hear a message from God.  

I was reminded of this when I read a passage from Bono's (U2's lead singer) book Surrender.  He writes: 

I have taken flights where the person seated next to me, the person I was dodging having a conversation with, turned out to hold a valuable piece of the puzzle of my life that I would be lost without. When you’re open, a hitchhiker—a “randomer,” as my daughter Eve calls them—can become an angel. When you’re least expecting one.

The key to this is being "open," of course.  When we recognize that something is happening that is bigger than our needs or desires, we often find God speaking to us there.  

There was a time when I finally relented to having a conversation with a lady sitting next to me and ended up praying for her and her family because they were going through hell because of a family member who was an addict. 

Or the time I bonded with a guy on a long flight over our love for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, I got to show him that not all pastors are stiff, holier-than-thou types who want to tell folks they're sinners bound for Hell. 

Then there was a moment when I had someone who wasn't a church-goer at all share words of encouragement to continue doing my work as a pastor, even though there are times when I wonder if it's making a difference.  

There's an admonition in the New Testament book of Hebrews where the author offers this advice: 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

May you (and I) find the openness to surrender to moments of a possible connection with others when the nudging of God is too powerful to ignore.   

May we discover anew the many lessons that God has to teach us, and may we also relish the chance to find angels among us that we would have never met otherwise. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen. 



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