We had never met.

She was a friendly, outwardly cheerful person who waited on me in a store this week. Over the course of our brief conversation, I soon discovered things were not as they appeared.

To make conversation, I commented on an intricate tattoo around her neck and asked if there was a story connected to it. Without hesitation, she told me of a traumatic attack by a stranger a few years earlier that left her emotionally paralyzed.  

Hospitalized for months, she suffered severe panic attacks and is still plagued by deep anxiety. Medication helps, but certain situations can even now trigger emotional meltdowns.

The tattoo, she said, is a symbol for “breathe.” It reminds her in traumatic moments to slow down and simply take a breath.

On Her Own

She went on to describe herself as “on her own.” She got pregnant when she was young, and her family promptly disowned her. Although she has tried, they refuse to have a relationship with her. Consequently, she is raising her two young children on her own.

You might think she shared these struggles as a complaint against life. She did not. They were more a statement of fact carefully devoid of emotion. On one level, she was so glad someone cared enough to listen, it all came out in a rush of reality. On another, the brokenness she valiantly tries to carry each day was on heartbreaking display.

Other Questions

“I don’t know why this happened to me,” she wondered aloud. Of course, I had no answer either, but I couldn’t help but think other questions lurked within her.  

  • “Is there something wrong with me?”
  • “Why won’t someone help me?”
  • “Am I really that bad?”
  • “Could I be beyond help?”

Although I gave her the chance to talk about spiritual things, she chose not to go there. From a couple of her comments, it seems neither faith nor a faith community play a part in her life.  

As I walked away that day, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Who is going to reach her with the love of God?”

The Struggle

Through no fault of her own, she struggles with emotional pain, loneliness, and deep disconnection. She is “on her own,” no doubt. But she doesn’t want to be.

Every day, people cross our path who live lives of quiet desperation. Maybe it’s not apparent on the outside, but just below the surface, the struggle is real…and deep.

Here’s where it gets dicey. I know many Christians break into hives when it comes to sharing their faith. They are afraid of offending someone or getting tongue-tied over what to say. But in initial conversations, our most valuable witnessing tool is not our mouths. It’s our ears.

Offering Love

One of the most loving acts we can offer is to genuinely listen to another person’s story. Deep down, we all crave to be understood. When we listen, we build a bridge to a God who is always listening and wants nothing more than to love each of us to life.

Of course, at some point, we need to say something. After taking in this young woman’s story, I’m pretty sure there’s one thing she doesn’t know yet. The next time I see her at that store, I want to share something during our chat, if God opens the door.  

“Maybe no one has ever said this, but you matter to God. More than you know.”

That’s it. Perhaps God will use something that simple to help her breathe easier.  

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as the lead pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Midwest. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role with Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI).

Roger now comes alongside pastors, non-profit leaders and their leadership teams as an executive coach, specializing in leadership that inspires change. As a side gig, he loves teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.

Other passions of his include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, Krispy Kremes, and board games with family and friends. He also has a weakness for golf.

Roger is the author of three books, Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith, Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For, and Come Back Participant Guide, all through Abingdon Press.

Now for the best part. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they live Bloomington, Illinois. God has blessed them with two adult children, a son-in-law, several tropical fish, and one adorable granddog.