Grumpy Old Man

In 1979 I was a young mother with two small children. We lived in an apartment complex that was filled with other young couples like us with one exception - the elderly couple who lived across the courtyard.

They were in their mid-seventies and very much out of place – like an ancient island floating isolated in a vast sea of strollers and tricycles. The lady was kind and friendly for the most part but her husband was a cranky, mean-spirited, grumpy old man.

He was always barking at the kids to be quiet when they were outside playing. He would hide their toys and then lie when parents confronted him. Before too long, I found myself going out of my way to avoid him. I told my children to follow my example.

I felt a twinge of guilt whenever I avoided him. When I told my children to do the same, it was worse. Even as a young Christian, I knew that being kind and compassionate was a good thing. Deep inside, I wanted to show my children how to love unlovable people. But I couldn’t do it.

It was easy to be kind and loving to his wife. She was so sweet. I had no clue how she could tolerate his behavior day in and day out. The entire complex could often hear him shouting abusive comments at her. Yet she was still so kind and sweet to others. I often felt sad for her and wondered how she could love him.

Then one morning we heard sirens. The ambulance pulled into the parking lot and the paramedics hurried into the elderly couple’s apartment. The grumpy old man had suffered a heart attack and died later that day.

I felt horrible for not even trying to befriend this man. His wife once told me that her husband didn’t believe in God. She said she prayed everyday that God would use someone or something to get through to him. I remembered the many times I felt compelled to say hello or show kindness and how I never did it – not even once. I felt guilty and remorseful for my actions, but he was gone.

I wrote the date of the grumpy old man’s death in my Bible and asked God to forgive me. Whenever I saw the date, I prayed for opportunities to love unlovable people in thought, word and deed.

Looking back, the grumpy old man’s death was a turning point for me – a new beginning in my faith journey. Since then God answered my prayers for opportunities to love people again and again. I now know that my kind words, loving behavior, or simple act of compassion may be the only Bible some people ever read. I don’t want to blow the last chance someone I know or meet may ever have to know the love of Christ.

When they hear the good news of Jesus and his loving sacrifice on the cross for them, I want them to remember what it feels like to be loved. I want people to see God’s love in me before they hear it from me.


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