Some days, I don’t like people very much. Not just the mean kind. Not only the thieves who break into my house or my car, but those who break into my time. Who steal my energy, my focus. Those who ask me to step out of my world, put down my program, and pay attention to them at just the wrong time. Even those who want to do life together when I don’t want to. When I want to do it alone.
You can imagine choosing life as a missionary would disrupt this plan. Open someone up for the deluge of “other.” And Mexican parking lots are a great place for life lessons.
Walk with me through the build-up.
I leave home on my way to the grocery store. Five children in tow. I usually send my husband for these trips, since I’m not comfortable still with all I need to learn in another culture. At the gas station, a young man pumps my gas. He finishes and waits for a tip. This is how he makes pocket change to survive. I’m on board. I dig through my cup holder and come up with a good amount of pesos. He is grateful and tucks away the change. At the first intersection, the light is red. While I wait, someone fire-breathes in front of my car. A slightly talented performance with the added risk of swallowing gasoline all day. When he approaches my car, I dig for some more change and drop it in his hand. He needs to eat too. At the next intersection, I get another red light. Someone washes my windshield (even though I said, no thanks). But they’re working, right? A few more pesos. I arrive at the grocery store, and someone attempts to direct me into a space in a wide-open parking lot. That’s insulting because I’ve been driving for over 30 years and certainly know how to park a car. He’s not a store employee even. Just some guy with a whistle. When I pretend not to see him, he curses me out for taking the space he suggested and not paying him for it.
Inside the store, I drag my five kids up and down the tight aisles. I buy what looks like the food I’m used to. At the check-out counter someone bags my groceries and waits for another handful of change. I dig through my purse to give her the rest of my pesos.
Meanwhile, I’m still agitated over the guy in the parking lot. I haven’t totally let it go. I don’t like being cursed at by strangers. And little by little, my annoyance meter has risen. My kids are tired and hungry and sick of being stared at for being different. I’m feeling a bit used and abused with all the hand-outs. Especially the entitled ones. I’m hot and ruffled and my generosity has tanked. I pity the poor soul who asks me for one more thing.
And here he comes.
An oversized teenager offers to help me with my cart before I can take two steps from the cashier. He’s got a hand on the metal basket already blocking my forward progress. I politely decline, but he follows me out the door. He looks both ways and guides my cart across the drive. As he shuffles next to us, I say, “Thank you for your help, but I’m fine. I have my own children to help me. Please, I don’t need you to walk me to my car and unload my groceries. Have a nice day.”
My Spanish is okay. I think he understands, but he follows me anyway. My kids cast wary glances, as if this over-assertive person could be a danger. When I get to the car and open my trunk, he reaches for a bag.
“Really, I’m okay. We can do this. I don’t need your help. Thanks anyway.”
Please, just go away!
Of course, I don’t say that. I just feel it. It crawls under my skin and into my bones.
With all the composure I have left, I corral the kids into the car, grab a dollar from my wallet and stand by the trunk to wait for the teen to finish unloading my groceries. And to make sure he doesn’t walk off with anything.
He is meticulous. Conscientious. Too absorbed in perfecting the task than any teenager I know. He lines the bags up perfectly—all part of the tip gauge. A job well-done surely demands a higher wage. I just want to chuck in my own groceries, slam the trunk, and be out of there.
When he’s done, he closes the trunk softly and smiles.
When I attempt to hand him the dollar, he waves it off.
“No, please,” I say. “Take it.”
He waves it off again and shakes his head, no.
I offer once more, because now I have to live with my attitude.
He says good-bye, and walks away.
And as I climb in my car, the rear view mirror reflects the depravity in my soul.
How often do I misjudge someone right in front of me? I tag him with motivations and intentions that I take the freedom to make up. If someone cuts me off, he’s a jerk. If I cut someone off, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. My motive is pure. My intentions, certainly wholesome.
On the flip side, how often do I serve expecting nothing in return? Absolutely nothing. Not only expecting nothing, but accepting nothing. When that something could also be the very thing I needed most.
I heard a message soon after that moment by John Maxwell. It broke my heart and stayed with me until this day. He said something like, “Every morning when I wake up I ask the Lord to help me bring value to each person He puts in my life. And when I lay down at night, a think about how well I accomplished it.”
John Maxwell understood something so profound. That his job, his goal, his motivation for the day was not for himself. It was not for A, B and C. Not for the task or the outcome. But for the people. And miraculously, if I take the focus off me (i.e., I need to speak well, write well, perform with excellence) and put it on them … how, O Lord, can I serve them—value them—today, the pressures and stress of my day vanish like vapor. Because it’s not about me trying hard to be something I’m not. And every new day, every new moment becomes an opportunity to place value—the highest value—on God’s most treasured creation.
And I find that I actually like people … a lot.
For me, the message came from a teenage boy who broke all odds. A kid who, though he had little, demanded nothing. A kid who served, just to serve.
A kid who changed my heart.