I talk to a lot of people at work all day long. Sometimes this gets a little exhausting. I remember one particular day when it was really busy at the office; large families with fussy children waiting in the lobby, co-workers hustling in and out of the door, people calling me on the phone with endless questions. It must have been something like 11am, but I was just about ready to throw in the towel and tell everybody to get lost.
Then the phone rang, and it was a friend of mine. She had already called me twice before then because she was trying to send me an email and couldn’t get it to work. First she had trouble logging into her email, so I helped her. Next, she had trouble attaching the document, so I helped her. Now she was calling a third time, and my patience was wearing so thin I could barely hear her over the roaring tirade going on inside my own head.
Fortunately for the both of us, I was raised by an extremely gregarious and extroverted mother who never let me get away with being rude. I was also the youngest child, and being so physically small I was the runt of the extended family, so I was very much accustomed to getting along with people. Also, I spent two years working on a hotline where I learned how to sound friendly and speak cheerfully, no matter how tired, zoned out, or irritated I was.
So I carried on with the call, sounding perfectly friendly and cheerful, all the while counting the seconds until I could hang up the phone. Finally, a few minutes later, she said she would let me get back to my work. Hallelujah, I said to myself. I thought that was never going to end.
And then just before we said goodbye, my friend said, “I just have to say, Renee, you are so nice. You’re always so friendly and cheerful to me every time I call. I want you to know that I appreciate you so much. Thank you for always being so kind.”
I wish there was a way I could describe with veracity the exact degree to which I felt like a total dummy in that moment.
There I was, just deigning to speak to this woman, barely tolerating her, being completely fake with her. Meanwhile she just couldn’t get off the phone without commending me for virtues that I didn’t have, lavishing me with praise that I didn’t deserve, especially in that moment. All throughout that phone call, I thought she was burdening me and I was the one being gracious to her. As it turns out, she was the one who was gracious to me, and though she might not know it, I was the one that needed carrying.
I hear a lot of people say that when they are faced with difficult people, they pray that they may see Jesus in that person so that they could find it in their hearts to love the other like they would Christ. That sounds great, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m not so sure that I, Renee, a proven temperamental curmudgeon, would be capable of loving Christ as He deserves if He ever walked in on me on a bad day. For all I know, He could be waving His pierced hands right in front of my face, wearing a name tag that reads “Son of God, Savior of the World”, and I might just look at Him and think, Ugh. (Eye roll). What does this guy want? I wish I could say that I would have the presence of mind, the purity of heart, to know and love my Savior if I were to come face to face with Him on the street, at work, or even in church. But the truth is my mind is still too tethered to the comforts and concerns of this world, my heart still marred by misplaced desires and vanities and prejudices. I’m still learning how to love Jesus, even on my good days. I’m working on it and I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet.
So while I work on my mind and my heart, I’m not praying to see Jesus when I look at others, but rather that others might see Jesus when they look at me. I’m praying that He would just step right up in front of me, see through me, speak through me, touch and heal and help through me. I’m asking Him if I could hide my preoccupied mind and weathered heart, my eye rolls and snarky comments, my mood swings and childish behavior, behind His perfect and unblemished love. So that when my neighbor encounters me, I might not hurt them or harm them. When my neighbor encounters me, I might not be a wall dividing him or her from the Divine, but rather a window…
…or a telephone line.
That day, I got off the phone with my friend feeling convicted and reminded of the work I still have to do. But I also felt immensely grateful for the grace of God, working in me even when I don’t deserve it. Truly, let the weak say I am strong. Let the poor say I am rich. Let the impatient, short-tempered, and sarcastic say that I am friendly, patient, and kind. This is what the Lord has done for me, and continues to do for me – on my good days, my bad days, and all the other days and telephone conversations in between.