I was 23 years old, working as a financial representative at a Fortune 100 company, at a conference in downtown Chicago. This was everything I thought I wanted, but something didn’t feel right. I thought of my accomplishments so far, about the opportunity I had at this conference to rub shoulders with top reps and execs, and to learn great things about the industry. I thought I should be happy because of all the external factors, but they couldn’t resolve the unease inside. I went for a run in the hopes of clearing my head. My hotel had a gym on the 43rd floor, overlooking the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. It was late, around 11pm; I was the only one there. Again, I should have been happy just looking around at where I was and what I had done to get there…but there was no peace. There was no one to share my success with.
The past year and a half I had neglected friendships and family, working from 8am-10pm. Ironically, I was rarely alone; meetings with clients took up much of my day, but I was focused on the business opportunity, not the person. I was at a point where I didn’t feel connected to anyone. In a city of 2 million…I was alone. That realization stopped me cold. I couldn’t run, I didn’t have the heart to. If I was miserable after working so hard the past year, why keep going?
After that, I didn’t feel like I could enjoy the energy and excitement of the conference. I looked up nearby churches to find a quiet spot to get away. There was one, St. Peter’s in the Loop that had 5:30am mass, early enough for me to get back to the day’s events. My phone failed to charge that night, and without it, I attempted to find the church by memory. I wandered around downtown for an hour. I was as lost literally as I was in my soul. Finally, I found the church just before mass. I prayed asking God for help in finding peace. When mass wrapped up, I still felt fairly miserable.
Then the gentleman behind me introduced himself: “Excuse me, I’m John.”
“Oh hi, I’m Stephen.” I wasn’t interested in talking. “Nice to meet you Stephen. I know we just met, but I felt called in mass to invite you to breakfast, would you be interested?” I threw out some objections about wanting to be alone, which is ironic considering I was upset about being alone. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I reluctantly agreed to breakfast.
As we walked back to John’s hotel for breakfast, I learned a few things: he was from Florida, he had a wife and kids, and he was in Chicago for an engineering conference. We shared breakfast, talked about faith and work, then went our separate ways. One thing became clear as we ate; he missed his family. At the time that didn’t seem significant to me, but upon later reflection it hit me: I was alone and tried to resolve it by remaining alone. It didn’t work. John was alone and resolved it by reaching out to someone else, by caring for someone else. His approach seemed to work better for both of us. We left that breakfast meeting not feeling as alone. I believe God moved John’s heart to reach out to me to teach me a lesson.
We all have hurt. For myself and John it was loneliness, but it can look different for each of us. We can choose to stay inside ourselves and keep the pain there. I tried that, and it didn’t work. We can try to distract ourselves from the hurt by exterior things like money, success, prestige…I also found that ineffective.
There is another option. We can live with an open heart. We can recognize that others may be hurting just as much as us, and we can reach out. This is what Christ did on the cross, taking on our wounds in order to heal our wounds. We can strive to be the person for someone else that we need ourselves. By doing so, we can bring about healing. If we live with closed hearts, we all fail. When we live with open hearts, we can bring healing and positive change to our broken world.
Stephen Tony is a Catholic Speaker, you can find out more about his work by visiting his site here.