It was about 10:15 pm California time when the shuttle doors closed. Even at this hour, the traffic on the LAX arrival circle was bumper-to-bumper, with little movement except for the animated gestures of frustrated drivers. I needed no “Welcome to the Golden State” sign to know I was back in California. The vortex of stress that fueled the one-way traffic circle had already sucked me in. It was 1:15 am my time. My day had started nearly 18 hours earlier on the east coast and I was more than eager for it to be over. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I strained to see out the front windshield. Realizing that neither leaning forward, nor the tirade of criticism running through my head was going to make the shuttle move any faster, I shifted back in my seat, tried to turn off the negative thoughts, and gave in to the heaviness of my tired eyes.
Although just a couple of miles away, it was nearing 10:40 pm by the time the shuttle stopped in front of the off-site rental car office. I wrestled my suitcase from the rack of bags and slung my backpack and purse over one shoulder just as the shuttle door opened. I ambled down the large step, tugged my suitcase to the curb, adjusted my grip, and headed for the building. With the crumpled reservation confirmation in my fist, I barely paused long enough for the automatic sliding glass doors to open. I glanced down at my watch as I crossed the threshold, and began calculating my ETA to the hotel. It was about the third step inside when those calculations came to an abrupt halt, and so did I. In front of me, stood no less than 50 people, lined up between what appeared to be an endless string of switch-backed stanchions. The line was at a complete standstill and, by the look on everyone’s face, it had not been moving for quite sometime. I couldn’t decide between anger or tears, so in utter exhaustion I simply chuckled sarcastically, shook my head, and resigned myself to the end of the line.
It was more than an hour before I reached a place where I could actually see the front of the line. There were only four employees working and rarely were all four of them helping customers at the same time. Recognizing that I still had a long wait ahead of me, I considered and rehearsed in my mind dozens of terse remarks that would communicate to the employee just the right amount of irritation, without being rude. I thought about the email I would compose and send to the company’s CEO, and the review I would be writing later on Yelp. As my mind went down these dark paths, my spirit followed. The irritation turned my stomach and I searched my purse for an antacid. That’s when I heard it. Laughter. Who on earth finds this funny? I thought to myself.
The laughter was coming from one particular employee’s window. In fact, this employee had gotten my attention before. She was clearly the most efficient of everyone who was working. Customers were processed quickly, and come to think of it, most of them left her window with a smile. I continued to watch her. As other employees left their stations, some never to return, some to take a break or go to lunch, this employee continued to work. As I got closer to the front of the line I noticed that any laughter that could be heard in the building, came from her window.
Finally, after more than 2 hours, I reached the front of the line. I saw the window to my left open up and I began to move towards it. The employee at that window quickly raised his hand to stop me. Apparently he had something else more important on his computer screen to attend to – a game of Solitaire, I imagined. I shook my head slowly in frustration, took a deep breath and waited… again. It was then, that the employee who left her customers smiling became available, and she called me over. I dragged my bags and my body over to her window and handed her my paperwork.
“How you doin’, Ms. Wolff. I’m gonna take care of you tonight. Don’t you worry about it. I got you, girl.”
I was immediately disarmed. Every terse remark I had rehearsed went out of my mind and my spirit was instantaneously lifted. Her words, her demeanor, her kindness, launched me into a whole new place. I was now searching for both the words and the mood that would return her sweet countenance. I told her how much I appreciated how hard she was working. I told her that everyone in line was watching, and that her positive interactions with her customers were noticeable.
“Really?” she said with genuine humility. “You mean, they’re not going to be mad at me when they get up here?”
“No way,” I said. “We’ve been watching and, you’re awesome.” We exchanged smiles. “But I can’t same the same for some of your co-workers.”
She stopped what she was doing and looked me in the eye. “You know what,” she said, “that’s between them and God.”
She went on to tell me that the night before, although she was supposed to be off at 12:30 am, she stayed until 4:00 am (closing time) because the line was so long. She told me that her union does not approve of them working past their scheduled hours, but she just didn’t feel right about leaving with that many people in line. She was hopeful that she would be able to leave on time this night., even hopeful that she’d get through the 25+ people still in line behind me, in the 30 minutes she still had left on her shift.
I was in absolute awe of her. I expected her to be, at the very least, distant, maybe apologetic, but probably not. What I didn’t expect was her desire to truly connect with us disgruntled, weary, grumpy, difficult customers. She was so pleasant, so kind, and so personable. It was clear that she saw every person that came to her window as a new opportunity to serve. What was equally remarkable, was the fact that she didn’t hold anything against her co-workers. It was evident to all of us in line that she was handling the majority of the customers. It had to be clear to her too. And yet, even when I pointed that out to her, it didn’t phase her. Although she was eager to go home on time, she was just as eager to get through as many people in line as she possibly could. Her focus was only on what more she could do, not on what her fellow employees were not doing. As she said, “that was between them and God.”
In a matter of just a few minutes, I had the rental agreement in my hand and I was headed towards the lot. Before I left her window, she did warn me that I might have to wait a few more minutes once outside, due to the fact that they were a bit behind in getting the cars washed and ready. She assured me though that it wouldn’t be long. I thanked her for everything, especially her hard work, and, like many of her other customers, I too left her window with a smile. .
Thankful to be out of the building and able to move more than just a few inches at a time, I moved quickly to the area where she instructed me to go. The lot was essentially empty, just as she had warned. I noticed a guy, presumably an employee, some distance away. He jogged over to me and said, “Can I help you ma’am?”
“I’m supposed to go to Section 3″ to get my car,” I said with a question in my voice.
“Well, this is Section 3,” he said politely, “but as you can see, there are no cars.” Before I could even respond, he said, “But don’t you worry. I’m going to get you a car.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You just wait right here. Give me a couple minutes. I’m gonna go right over to the wash and bring a car over to you.”
Before I knew it, this older gentleman was jogging towards the car wash in the far corner of the lot. I wasn’t sure what to think. To be honest, there was a part of me that never expected to see him again. I waited, too tired to even begin to calculate my arrival time to the hotel. I was at least closer to getting a car than I had been all night. It wasn’t long, maybe 10 minutes or so, when I saw the headlights of what appeared to be a small compact car headed in my direction. The same polite, older gentleman got out of the car, popped the trunk open and said, “Here you go, ma’am. Here is your car.”
He came over to get my bags. I walked with him to the back of the car. It was then that I noticed the baseball cap he was wearing. It had a cross embroidered on it and the words, “Jesus is Lord.” He put the bags in the trunk and held the driver’s side door for me as I got in. He showed me where to adjust the mirrors. He pulled a rag out of his back pocket and began to wipe down the side mirror that was still wet from the car wash.
“I like your hat,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, thank you, ma’am,” he said. “I noticed you were wearing a cross.”
“You bet,” I said.
“It’s all about the gospel, right ma’am? We just need to tell people about Jesus. Whether or not they accept Him, that’s on them. We just gotta tell ’em.”
I was immediately convicted of the dark thoughts that had consumed most of the past two hours as I stood in line. If he noticed my cross, how many others had and did my expression, attitude, and light ever come close to matching his. I already knew the answer.
“You’re right,” I said.
I watched as he went around to the other side of the car to wipe down the other mirror. He came back to the driver’s side.
“Okay, ma’am. You’re all set! You drive careful, now, and have a wonderful weekend. God bless you.”
“You too,” I said.
As I drove towards the exit, well beyond exhaustion I saw the clock on the dash. It was 12:45 am, 3:45 am my time. I said out loud to the Lord, “It was worth it! LORD! As tired as I am… thank you. Those two people, made all of this… worth it!”
Both this man and his co-worker, the woman who helped me at the counter, were bright lights in a dark and difficult environment. The company they work for offers low rental prices, attracting thousands of customers on busy holiday weekends. But then they don’t provide adequate staff or resources to handle the increased numbers efficiently. The woman at the counter shared with me that on weekends like this, they would receive pressure from the management when complaints were received for poor service, and they’d also be the ones to hear it directly from the customers. It wasn’t fair. But, her response, as well as her co-worker’s in the parking lot, was to show love, joy, peace, patience, and care for each person. For the gentleman, it was to boldly show that his motivation to serve with love and kindness came from following Jesus as his Lord. It was completely unexpected and it was a delight to experience. It profoundly changed the way I perceived what should have been a horrible, or at the very least, extremely frustrating night.
I recently read the story of Peter and John getting thrown in jail in Acts, chapter 4. It was after they had healed a man who had been lame since birth. This miracle, which occurred near the temple, had created quite a stir, and Peter used it as an opportunity to tell the onlookers about Jesus. Well the priests, the temple guard, and the Sadducees were upset to hear them preaching about Jesus, so they had them thrown in prison. The next day, they called for them and asked them to explain their actions. Peter, once again, used this circumstance as an opportunity to preach the gospel. He and John were filled with the Holy Spirit, and even after being warned not to continue to preach in Jesus’ name, they vowed that indeed they would. Here is how that story ends in Acts 4:18-31:
“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:18-31)
What I find remarkable about this account of Peter and John’s experience is their response to it. They could have left that brief imprisonment and examination in fear. The Word says that they were further threatened by the religious leaders not to speak of Jesus again. They could have cowered to those threats and responded by taking the movement of The Church underground. They also could have responded in anger or indignation, asking God to strike down those religious leaders, punishing them for the way that they treated them. After all, Peter and John were obeying God. How dare these religious leaders be allowed to think that they’re right and that those following Jesus are wrong! But Peter and John, and their church family, did not have either response.
As soon as they were released, they went to their church family and told them what happened. Together, they began to pray. In that prayer, they first recognized and acknowledged God’s sovereignty – the fact that there were those in the world who would band together against Him and against His Son, Jesus – and that all of this was under God’s authority and control. Then, and this is what is so remarkable, they asked for boldness to keep on preaching. They didn’t ask Him to protect them against the threats. They didn’t ask Him to send lightening strikes to annihilate their oppressors. They asked for boldness, in the face of those threats, to keep on preaching. And, they asked for more opportunities to heal people and perform other signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. The very thing that got them into trouble, they asked for more of! And how did God respond? With a profound filling of the Holy Spirit to speak the Word boldly.
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think about those two employees at the rental car company that night. Their reactions to the no-win situation they were in, made them want to be MORE bold in their service of others. They could have folded to the unrealistic demands of their management and simply showed up to work to collect their paychecks. They could have been offended by their customer’s frustrations being taken out on them and responded with their own hostility or distance. But they didn’t do either. They didn’t focus on anything but being light, being kind, being loving, and extending genuine care to others. They stepped out boldly to connect with each customer, personally, genuinely and with love – God’s love.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says this about the passage quoted above, “In threatening times, our care should not be so much that troubles may be prevented, as that we may go on with cheerfulness and courage in our work and duty. They do not pray, Lord let us go away from our work, now that it is become dangerous, but, Lord, give us thy grace to go on steadfastly in our work, and not to fear the face of man. Those who desire Divine aid and encouragement, may depend upon having them, and they ought to go forth, and go on, in the strength of the Lord God. God gave a sign of acceptance of their prayers. The place was shaken, that their faith might be established and unshaken. God gave them greater degrees of his Spirit; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, more than ever; by which they were not only encouraged, but enabled to speak the word of God with boldness.”
The steadfastness of those two rental-car employees was an encouragement to me to be bold in my love and genuine care for others, in my duty to share Jesus with others no matter what my circumstances might be. I think too often, amidst the climate of the worldly culture within which we live, we either shut down out of fear or mistrust, or we expect God to intervene on our behalf and strike down those who oppose us. We forget there is a third option. One may argue there is only one option and it is not either of those. We are to recognize God’s sovereignty. That He has placed us in this world at this time and in this season to be light and salt in this dark and tasteless world. In response to HIs sovereignty, we should then pray for boldness. In the midst of and in spite of any threats the world may lodge against us, that we are bold in proclaiming His Son Jesus to the world. And, by the power of His Holy Spirit, that we would be filled and fueled to be used by Him to perform whatever signs and miracles He desires. That is what brings honor and glory to Him and acknowledges HIs sovereignty – not our shutting down, not our demand for His justice.
I was convicted that night. I never sent the email I had started drafting in my head. I didn’t review the company on Yelp. I realized that the conviction and righteous indignation that I felt against that company, paled in comparison to the conviction and righteous indignation that God could have against me. I missed two hours worth of opportunity to react unexpectedly to my circumstances, to be salt and light, to share God’s good news with those around me, to share love, kindness, peace, and genuine care for others. God made the lesson I was to learn that night so simple and clear. Regardless of the circumstance, I want to react like those two employees did, and like Peter, John, and their church family. God has put me here in His sovereignty. And I will ask for boldness to be His light, His love, His witness, and an instrument of His power. I encourage you, my friend, to do the same. Let us embody unexpected reactions that others will notice, so that we can point them to their Source – Jesus.
Father, forgive me for my lack of boldness, for my getting sucked in to the vortex of darkness, stress, frustration, or whatever other distraction I encounter in this world. Lord, thank you, for putting me here, at this time and in this place for such a time as this. I acknowledge your great sovereignty over all that goes on in this world. Use me, Lord. Give me boldness to speak your Word, to share your love, to genuinely care for others, and to share the good news about Jesus. Thank you for those who are living out their faith, serving as beautiful examples, true witnesses of what it means to be light and salt. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to do the same. Thank you for your patience and your grace. Grant me boldness and a willing spirit to be used by you every day and in every circumstance. In the name of your precious Son Jesus, our Savior, amen.