Dorothy Day said it best: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” When that person is a total stranger, we are indeed distant from feeling loved from within.  I’ve had two holiday occasions recently to stretch myself in this area. I decided I would be authentic in any given moment or situation and let the Spirit lead me, trusting that the right words would appear and ready for whatever adventure might await.  I was richly rewarded.

At the harbour in Halifax, a young woman was selling boat cruises.  I was curious about the offerings but I was more curious about whether she was a local student. I asked her outright the question and I was delighted to hear her say yes.  She attended Dalhousie University.  I asked her what she liked about it and from there, I discovered Lisa was from Oakville, Ontario where she attended the same high school as my son. We soon found a common connection and warmly parted as new friends.

Joanne and I stopped at an old pub in Halifax where I initiated another conversation with our young waitress.  I soon discovered Laura was a local university graduate, deeply in love with her boyfriend with plans to move to Alberta as there are no quality jobs in Nova Scotia in their fields. Joanne and I shared about our wandering university children and that helped open things up. Next thing I knew, I was asking about her family situation. She seemed to trust us quickly and soon we learned that, although she was born in Nova Scotia, her much-loved step-dad and mom actually raised her in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.  We had a great laugh when I asked her to say “How are you?” in Cantonese!

My approach is always the same. I comment on something happening in the present moment.  I don’t think about it nor do I pre-plan it.  On my inner peace mission, I’ve grown comfortable self-disclosing about what I’m thinking, notice or feeling. This creates a spark with others, I’ve noticed.  For me, this has been a major transformation. At one time, I self-disclosed nothing to strangers. It was way out of my comfort zone. Embracing “nothing to hide,” has largely liberated me from that former prison. My former fear was that I would say something stupid! I learned that I had good reason for that fear. My judgmental heart, if left to its own devices, might easily make a condescending or egotistical comment if left unguarded.

I’ve learned to not make conversations about me. People love to talk about themselves and I for the most part, love to listen. I am aware that I give them entry points to ask more about me but that rarely happens. I’m neutral about that, which lets me keep my eye on them. It doesn’t change the fact that when I bump into someone with a similar passion to mine, I soon feel like I’ve made a new best friend! Likewise, not everyone wants to have a conversation with me either. I no longer receive that as a rejection. That too, was a major obstacle in my past life.

My wife and I took the commuter train in to Toronto recently to celebrate our 14th anniversary by doing a major bike ride in the city.  As we fumbled getting our bikes on to the train, a young man was equally fumbling with a large bag of luggage.  I invited him to sit down beside us in the three seat area where we sat near the door. That broke the ice.  I inquired about his journey by saying, “It doesn’t look like you’re doing a day trip!” with a smile.  He smiled back and said he had a new job in Toronto in finance and was traveling to New York city for a week long training program.  By the end, we learned much about him, a small town boy from the middle of nowhere in British Columbia. As I have many business contacts on LinkedIn, I offered him my card and suggested he link with me to expand his network.  My wife was particularly enamoured with him as he reminded her of her son Andrew. Indeed, that turned out to be his name too!

The only time I wanted to kick myself was with two young women who were paid guides at an old French Catholic church in southern Nova Scotia. Dressed in period costumes, I eventually asked the older one if she attended church herself. She said no, hanging her head slightly as if to feel guilty. I gently asked if she’d been raised with church at all. She said no, that going to church wasn’t something her family did. I replied with an empathetic comment. “That’s understandable.” I then asked what her plans were.  She said she was taking a year off university to find herself. Her tone was serious, not like that of someone out to have a vacation for a year. That was my moment. I felt an urge to say, “You’re standing in a place right here where you will find yourself.” I wanted to say how I once felt that way and how I only found myself when I found Jesus. Instead, I said nothing more other than to wish her well.

These are the moments when I need to be more vulnerable. I want to be more obedient to these promptings, ones that I believe are from the Holy Spirit. Though I failed, I have learned to be compassionate towards myself, while resolving to do better next time.  Life on the inner peace mission is a humbling journey. We learn how often we fail and that God loves us anyway. In him, my peace is restored and my prayers for those I meet reach him.  Most importantly, I know that his love radiates from me and these former strangers, now momentary friends, feel their own spirit stirred to know him in a way that needs no words from me.