Monday, April 13, 2009

Suffering, in full color

I use to wait tables during the Summer. Actually, I started off as a busboy and food runner, eventually working my way up to waiting tables. Being a busboy was much easier than waiting tables because you never had to interact with the customers--or people really. 

When I started waiting tables I began to learn how I responded to adversity. When you are "in the weeds," you can either freak out and start yelling at the Kitchen staff (not a good way to get your food out faster) or you can focus and work fast. You also learn how to take the good with the bad. You are going to drop a plate or a glass, your manager is going to get on to you about something and you are going to have great customers along with really awful customers. 

My best and worst story from waiting tables is when I received an $.86 tip--there's a decimal point in front of that 86--on a $76 tab. I remember grabbing their cash and "tip" after they had left, entering it into our computer system and then cursing out loud once I found out what they had done. First of all, I was amazed at how quickly curse words come to my lips in a frustrating situation. Secondly, I was overwhelmed by how much I let one bad customer affect me. The entire night following the "tip," I was a jerk to everyone around me. It didn't matter how many outstanding patrons came into the restaurant that night, one inconsiderate couple had effectively ruined the evening. 

In retrospect, things didn't have to go down the way they did. I could have asked God to give me the strength to love my newfound "enemies" and treat those around me with the grace I had not received from Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags. I could have just let it go and let my ego die a little, but instead my soured sense-of-entitlement ruled the day. I'm not writing because I have always wanted to "get back" at that couple via blog bash. I am writing because I am just now noticing how much I let evil and negativity crowd out goodness and love. 

Have you ever been in a really difficult place and thought to yourself, "Why are things always so bad?" I wasn't always this way and certainly have not viewed the world in such a dark light my entire life, yet as I grow older I am seeing how easy it is for me to drift into that mindset. Lately I have been blaming God for almost any and every bad circumstance or happening that intrudes my safe, little world. As it was when I waited tables, I have been choosing to let negativity and evil color my world grey. It's become much harder for me to see the goodness of my God and the love he has shown towards me as I advance in age. 

At issue here is not the quality of my life. I have a roof over my head, shoes on my feet, food in the cupboard, a car to drive, an education, a wonderful wife, clean water and so on and so on. In light of the world's greater--and at the same time poorer--population, what the hell am I complaining about? Simply put, what has been tainting me and turning me cold is an ungrateful, unthankful mindset that refuses to see the world in full color. 

Chuck Swindoll, a well-aged and wise pastor, is quoted as saying, "I'm convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I respond to it." I can either play the part of the wounded victim or respond in love and faith because I know the character of God to be good. I am not calling for dishonest responses to crummy situations. In fact, we should be entirely honest with how bad our day might be going depending on whatever might be happening in our world. We should, however, be honest enough to look outside of ourselves and recognize the beauty, love and truth that is manifested on our big, blue planet. A well-shaped worldview stares empathetically into the teary eyes of injustice and laughs along with a side-splitting joke, "weep[ing] with those who weep" and "rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice."  Life isn't all black, all white, or even all grey--it's full color.