Last night, on my way home from work, I stopped to get gas. (I wish the story ended there, but that would make for a much less poignant Facebook note)
I was in a hurry, attempting to make it to soundcheck on time in preparation for an amazing night at church, so the last thing I needed was a man coming up to me as I attempted to pay with my debit card at the pump. I had inserted my card and was selecting my fuel grade when he appeared at my side.
He spoke in broken English and seemed very frantic; apparently, he had paid inside and then gotten into the car and drove away, forgetting to fill his tank. According to him, if I continued, I was going to be filling my tank with his prepaid gas, and he wanted me to come inside so the clerk could confirm that his $10 was still on my pump; I needed to find another available pump in the already overcrowded gas station.
Blame Lakewood, or the fact that a man had been shot point-blank in the head right around the corner from my office the afternoon before, or call me paranoid – but I immediately doubted his motives. I didn’t have time for this, and I certainly didn’t want to move my car to another pump so that he could fill his tank on my credit card because I naively believed his “prepaid story”. This seemed like something I would hear about on the evening news – the next big scam. So, I had to go inside to confirm before I did what he was asking me to do.
And as we proceeded with figuring this mess out, I became someone I successfully avoid becoming on a consistent basis; I treated him like the nuisance I felt he was.
I sighed heavily, and repeatedly. I went inside with him but avoided eye contact; I was irritated and inconvenienced and I checked my phone persistently… I was a complete and total brat. And I knew it. Something whispered, but I suppressed it.
I was agitated that he was “so tired” from work that he had gotten into his car after paying and drove off like a complete flake. (More whispering)
I was dismissing the man’s apologies with a half-hearted smile. I was agreeing with the clerk, who was barking at the poor man that he “couldn’t babysit his pump” if he had left by mistake, and it was the man’s problem and not his. I ignored the tiny tinge of guilt I was feeling and reminded myself that this was not my fault. I was just being cautious in not trusting his story. Right?
When the clerk confirmed that the pump in question was still ready with his prepaid $10 and had not read my debit card after all, I knew at this point that I was doing the right thing by moving my car, and that the man was genuine in his mistake, but I had yet to change my attitude. Stupid pride.
I glanced at my cell phone, confirming that my five minute stop for gas had turned into a twenty-five minute ordeal. Crankiness prevails, overshadowing the quiet whispering going on inside.
I stomped back to my car, muttering “yeah, it’s okay. Its fine.” to his persistent apologies and repeated confirmation that, in fact, it was his fault and not mine. I filled my tank and he filled his; he attempted to make nice with friendly chatter. I had no interest in chatting it up. The minutes ticked by, and I was in a hurry. I thought about the other gas station up the road and how, ironically, I had chosen this one at the last minute because it was a few cents cheaper. Go figure.
But, my naturally sparkling personality (haha, and by “naturally sparkling personality”, I mean Jesus) got the best of me. My heart softened almost instantly. I became sympathetic, and I sincerely accepted his apology as I got back in my car, smiling to let him know I was no longer angry. I felt guilty, but knew I had to leave graciously… God wouldn’t allow me to drive away after treating this stranger like a complete and total jerk. I raised my hand in a sheepish wave, and told him to enjoy the sunshine and the rest of his night.
I got into my car, but before I shut my door, I heard the last words out of his mouth.“I’m so very sorry. Drive carefully… God bless you and keep you.”
Now, I’m late for soundcheck, guilt-ridden and teary-eyed as I make the five minute drive to my house.
What a complete idiot I had been. This poor man probably had just as stressful of a day as I had. Who am I to place myself so far above him? My time was not more valuable than his.
He had made a mistake that I know I am capable of making – or will make in the future. He may have been spending his last $10 on gas. I would have been just as concerned about the $10, too, so why was I so quick to allow irritation to set in? Why didn't I joke with him about how that sounds like something I would do, or tell him to just be grateful he didn't drive away with the pump still in his car?
“What if you’re the only Jesus that someone will ever see?” This hadn’t been in my mind until I drove away… but obviously, it had been in his.
Ouch, ouch… OUCH.
I know we’re human, I know we made mistakes, and I know we’re saved by grace – but wow. What a reality check for me, on this beautiful Wednesday afternoon. What kind of a representation had I just been?I know I didn’t blatantly disrespect him or cause a scene, but it was worse in my mind because I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t handling the situation as I would have liked. I was aware of the whispering going on inside of me, but left it at that: I was just aware.
Everyone is fighting a battle, and everyday, we’re faced with decisions. We can treat someone with the impersonal carelessness of the world, or we can treat people – no matter what the situation – with our gifted dignity and grace. Unfortunately, falling on my face was the only way to remind myself of this. It was His way of telling me to slow down. Everyday is another opportunity to love, and to shower people with compassion and understanding. I had missed this chance, but I won’t miss another. Living in fear, in the best sense of the word, is just a great thing. A good fear will make us aware of our chances, and the importance of choosing the right direction when we come to a “fork” in the road.
I know I missed yesterday’s opportunity, but that just means that the next time someone makes a mistake and I’m faced with a decision, I can walk confidently down the right path. He made the mistake, and I was the one who learned the lesson. I love how that works.