I was walking down a back street in Bangkok one evening this week, on my way home, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man sitting on the curb with a bottle of whiskey. I walked past him, and my pace didn’t change at all until a phrase invaded my thoughts.
Why are you drinking alone?
I often find myself in situations where I have no idea what to say, but increasingly, in moments like these, without even wracking my brain for something to say, I hear a phrase in my thoughts… the choice then becomes mine. Will I say something while I can – or let the moment pass?
So, that’s what happened. Reluctantly I slowed my pace and looked back over my shoulder.
Big guy. Sitting on a curb. Whiskey. Back street of Bangkok. After 10 PM.
Clearly I had no intention of stopping; I had already walked several paces beyond the man before I heard the phrase. But there it was, Why are you drinking alone?
So, I paused. Took a deep breath. Turned around and walked back.
“Why are you drinking alone?” I asked him, wondering how the phrase would land. It sounded awkward when it was actually verbalized.
I stood there waiting for his response, but his head was hanging down. After a long moment, he looked up to meet my gaze, beads of sweat covering his face in the sticky Bangkok humidity. He looked so sad.
“My wife left me and took our child,” he began. As he continued telling his story, I didn’t know what to say. No phrases. Nothing. So, I just sat down on the curb and listened.
Then he asked, “Why did you stop? People don’t just stop like this.”
Hm. Why did I stop? The thought? The thought came from God, right?
So, I responded, “I stopped because… God loves you… Really, He does. You matter, and I think He knew you needed to know that tonight.”
He kept talking, retelling the story of his broken heart. His pain was deep. His pain was real. The alcohol didn’t make him forget it. The xanax (I recognized its effects) was trying to put him to sleep, but he still remembered.
He would go silent, fumble with his cigarettes and lighter, then pause – head drooping like he was about to fall asleep. After that moment of silence, he’d remember another detail. On and on this went.
Why don’t you go home and get some sleep? I heard the question.
“Why don’t you go home and get some sleep?” I asked him, as I touched his shoulder to keep him from falling over onto the sidewalk. “You’re so tired. You shouldn’t sleep here.”
He didn’t respond. He wasn’t ready to go home yet.
“I didn’t want to drink tonight,” he confessed after finishing the last swallow of whiskey. “And it’s been two years since I had xanax… but I just couldn’t cry… I’m so lonely…”
I had no words to respond. So, I assumed I was just there to listen.
As I stared into the light from the streetlamp across the street, I realized something. Jesus sent me simply to be present for this guy tonight. Maybe because I could be comfortable in the silences – those awkward silences that define his life right now. No easy answers. None will fit his pain. But, will anybody be there with him in that pain? He doesn’t know that Jesus is there. Jesus is always near to the brokenhearted. But because he doesn’t know that yet, he won’t feel Jesus’ presence unless a real flesh and blood person is there on Jesus’ behalf.
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“You shouldn’t be alone tonight. Nobody should be alone when they are hurting.”
A little while after 11, he decided he was ready to go back to the empty apartment to get some sleep. I helped prop him up to walk back to his building and said goodbye to him at the door.
There are so many broken, hurting men here in Thailand. We run into them all the time. The last few weeks, I’ve been especially burdened for these men – encountering them everywhere I turn. I’m asking God to raise up men after His heart – men like Jesus who will gather rag-tag bands of followers to do life with – to teach and lead and minister alongside and release into leadership… I honor you men of God who are already doing that, and I’m pleading with God to multiply you. The thing is, I think that’s been God’s plan all along. Are you on board?
Men, if you’re not already in an accountability relationship with another guy, you should be. Start by talking honestly with other Christian men about your life, each of you challenging and encouraging one another to know and become more like Jesus. Take what God has taught you and start mentoring another guy at your church or in your neighborhood. If there’s nothing happening… start something.