Empty Seats

Running a restaurant has always seemed like something I would enjoy doing. People come to you looking for food, fun and camaraderie. You get daily opportunities to feed people physically and if you play your cards right you may even get to hear their stories and experience life through their eyes. It sounds like a great gig.

I think that’s why it broke my heart to pull up to a local restaurant the other night and find the parking lot empty. Knowing the owner’s struggles over the past couple of years made the emptiness of that lot even heavier in my mind.  It was worse when I went in and had a seat.

On a Sunday night in years past, there would be gregarious laughter ringing from the rafters. I never got to sit through a Norse Viking Celebration but I imagine a Sunday night at this restaurant to be that kind of loud and jubilant. 

Sitting with a friend for the nights meal, we commented on how awkward it was to be the only customers. We both knew the emptiness signaled a dwindling business. Even the waiter sounded sad and burdened as we placed our orders. It was obvious we weren’t the only ones who felt the awkwardness of the “lone” table of diners in an empty dining room.

Then out of nowhere, with a rush like a typhoon and in a show I would equate to the triumphal marches of Rome, came the owner. “Preacher, God has blessed me with your being here. I need prayer.”

My friend and I assumed the request was for the struggling business. As the owner began revealing his prayer need to us, my heart broke and I realized just how small my thoughts were. I was sure his concern was for his own troubles, yet here he was begging me to pray for a man he met who needed help. This man, at the end of his ability to understand, wanted to be done with life. My friend was not willing to let that happen. He had taken it upon himself – without fear for his own safety – to go and be what this man needed him to be. He went to save a life.

After concluding our prayer with the owner he disappeared back into the kitchen and I was left to ponder on the events that had just taken place. My friend and I continued sharing life, with comments of God’s timing and divine appointments peppered into the conversation, I was overtaken with thoughts of what God had done. 

At the end of a very long day He brought me face to face with a man who had every right to be overwhelmed. If anyone had a right to focus on what they had to do it would be this restaurant owner. Yet he saw a need in someone else’s life and he responded. It truly made me question how often in life I let my moods or concerns outweigh my allegiance to Christ and what He did on that cross. 

As a living breathing walking around Christian, I know to take up my cross daily and follow Christ. I think sometimes that is easier than others. Some days it requires me naturally being kind. There are also days that it requires sacrifice. Those days that I just want to be left alone and be angry at people in my own little irritable world, I have to sacrifice that mood, so that I can live in light of the cross. When I want nothing more than to focus in on what I “need” to feel complete, I have to sacrifice those “needs” in order to live in light of the cross.

When my friend walked up to me I thought I knew what he wanted to pray about. Maybe sometimes I have to sacrifice my pre-conceived notions of what people need and my prideful arrogance of always being right in order to truly hear people’s heart, share life and live in light of Christ’s crucifixion and what it did for us. 

The relationships we have, and the narrative we live, change drastically when we stop living by speculation and presumptions. If we manage to take to time to listen to the stories of the people around us, we will often find they are much more amazing than our suspicions ever were. 

Take some time this week to go and find some tables. Then take those tables and turn them into community.

Author: John Edgar


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