The woman’s deep sobs echoed through the courthouse as she crumbled into a chair across from me.
My heart ached for whatever pain she was experiencing. At that moment I wanted to be some kind of hero to her—to replace her tears with peace, her anguished wails with hope. But my insecurities kept me strapped to my seat.
Would she appreciate a stranger approaching her in this time of deep grief, or would she resent my intrusion? What would I say, anyway? I couldn’t promise that things would get better when I didn’t even know the source of her pain or her backstory, and this didn’t feel like the right time for an uninvited sermon. And so I sat, silently praying, but other than that, doing nothing to help.
Over the years I have never stopped wishing I had done something that day to bring that woman some much-needed comfort. But I still have never known quite what that would have looked like.
That is, until my friend Heidi shared her story. Heidi was returning from a convention, and her plane had just landed in Chicago. As soon as cell phone use was permissible, she could hear the woman in the seat in front of her having an animated conversation. Heidi heard the frustration and anger in her voice and could see the woman visibly shaking.
As the plane arrived at the gate, Heidi felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to gently poke between the seats to get the woman’s attention. “Are you in crisis?” Heidi asked. “Are you OK?”
After the woman spilled out a story of personal and professional pain, Heidi said what may be the only words that can provide true comfort amid crisis: “I believe in prayer; may I pray for you? Like right now?”
The woman eagerly accepted her offer. The two exchanged names, and Heidi introduced her colleague sitting next to her; then the three women bowed their heads as Heidi offered a brief prayer before leaving the plane.
Meeting up again in the terminal, the women exchanged business cards, and the one who had been grieving just a few minutes earlier now stood with her new friends, recording a couple of selfie videos to share with others how God had brought Heidi and her colleague into this woman’s life.
Hearing Heidi’s story gave me a stronger resolve to speak up the next time I see someone in crisis. Through Heidi’s experience I have learned that I may not have anything to offer those who are experiencing unspeakable pain, but God does. God can give me the right words to say. And most important, I can always share the peace that prayer brings to hurting souls. It isn’t just the woman in the courthouse who missed out that day when my fear left me seated in silence. I missed the opportunity to experience God working for me. That’s an opportunity I hope I don’t pass up next time.