I interviewed a businesswoman for a magazine article I was supposed to write. In the course of our conversation, she told me about a mentor who had paid her way through school, and tears fell.
She apologized. “I don’t cry,” she said. “I’m normally all business. I know what I want, and I go after it. I don’t know where these tears are coming from.”
Later she talked about the recent death of her mother. She hadn’t said “I love you” to her mother when she last left the house. In the couple of hours she’d been gone, her mother had died. The woman deeply regretted not saying “I love you.” It was something they always did. But she hadn’t done it that one time. She’d been in a big hurry.
Again the tears flowed. “I’m not normally like this. I don’t cry.” She apologized, dabbing at her eyes. “I’m a businesswoman. I’m not like this.”
She talked about her goals and her hopes and her strategies to get what she wanted. She didn’t have hobbies. She didn’t know what she’d do if she wasn’t running her business. She had worked hard to get ahead, and she was proud of her accomplishments.
For some reason, near the end of the interview, I asked, “If you got everything you wanted, what would you have?”
She didn’t even pause a second: “A beach house in Hawaii. A fancy cabin in the woods. Millions in the bank.”
Suddenly, she started to cry. She sobbed for a long, long time. At last she blurted out, “That’s an awful question to ask me. Why would you ask me that?” There was fire in her eyes.
I apologized. I disciple church planters and often ask them to describe what they would have if God gave them everything they longed for. I get a lot of interesting answers. I didn’t know why the question just came out of my mouth. But it had.
The woman was quiet for a long time. Finally she said, “God, I’m so shallow. All I want is stuff. Stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s just stuff. My life is wrapped up in stuff.” More tears flowed.
“You must think I’m awful. Please don’t put any of this in the magazine. My first thought wasn’t about my kids or my fiancé or people at all. My first thought was all about things that don’t matter. I’m superficial. It’s the truth. I’m so shallow. How can I change? I don’t want to be like this.”
Uncomfortable, I responded, “What do you think you need to do?”
She thought for a long time. Finally she said, “Maybe I need God.” More tears appeared.
A couple of phone calls interrupted us. She had to take them. She composed herself while conducting business. When she was done, we continued on a much lighter note.
The interview over, she walked me to the door. She apologized for weeping. “Ask anyone,” she said, waving her hand at a receptionist and some people standing near the front desk. “Ask them. I never cry.”
I didn’t ask. I took her word for it.
“It was good to meet you.” She shook my hand. “Thanks for writing an article about me. I’ll be thinking a long time about what I would have if I had everything I wanted. That hit me like a ton of bricks. Do you ask everyone that question?”
I don’t. But I might start.