I see him walking and watch his lungs expand. He lets out a breath and my breakfast curdles within my stomach. Even his breathing bothers me. I try and shake the bitterness from my bones, asking Jesus to please, please help me, but I don’t finish the prayer. I am too ashamed.
We’re in the coffee shop together. He, on the customer side; me, behind the counter. He is standing in a long line of hungry, under caffeinated people, and it is early. The sun hasn’t poked her head through the clouds yet. If I could choose, I would run back home and crawl into my bed.
He looks at me. I try to avoid eye contact to no avail. He sees me. He holds out his mug, and for a brief naive moment, I think of it as some sort of truce or peace offering.
“Girl, give me more coffee.”
I blink. He must assume I haven’t heard him because he repeats himself. “Did you hear me, girl? Another coffee.”
He holds out his mug, and I watch my fingers reach out and take it. Perhaps I’ll accidentally spill some on his arm when I hand it back.
I’ve served him before in this coffee shop, many times. But this “girl” thing is new. A hundred choice words fly through my head as I pour the coffee into his cup. I realize my lips are pursed in a hard line, and I will them into something friendlier before I hand it back to him.
Love him. The thought comes from out of nowhere. It’s quickly replaced by another. Let’s go with a ‘no’ on that one. I couldn’t love him if I tried. I wonder if it makes me a hypocrite for preaching love without doing much loving.
“Have a nice day, sir,” I manage weakly as I hand the cup back. He doesn’t look at me, just takes the mug and goes back to the seat next to his computer, presumably where a million more important people wait in the depths of his screen.
I feel these speckles of bitterness jump within me. They simmer down, and I’m afraid they’re taking root. I think of the man and I think of my heart. Just love people, I tell myself. How is that so hard? Jesus did it. Shouldn’t that mean I can, too?
Days later, I sit in the car with my friend. (I’m convinced I have my best conversations in modes of transit: cars and planes mostly.) I tell her how terrible I am. I tell her how much bitterness and irritation I have inside of me. We talk about grace and I ask her, “Do you believe there’s grace for me?” She smiles and says easily, “Yes. I know there is.”
I think of Jesus telling people to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. I don’t have any enemies, and I definitely don’t think a man calling me “girl” and telling me to refill his coffee cup falls under the category of persecution. But I mutter to Jesus, “Alright, fine, I’ll pray for him,” even though it goes against every stubborn human fiber in my stubborn human being.
I try it this week. The man comes into the store again, looking just as miserable as he did last time I saw him. When he sees me and tells me to fill his mug, I feel that same anger starting to cook inside of me. I give him his coffee and paste on a smile, but wonder if he can feel the irritation blistering within me.
Retreating to the washroom, I stare in the mirror. I say out loud, “Bless him, Jesus. Maybe he’s having a bad day. Or a bad few weeks. Or a bad life. Or maybe he’s not, and this is just who he is and he thinks it’s perfectly alright to call me Girl and demand things.” I realize I’m getting myself worked up again and take a long breath, lowering my voice. “But bless him, Jesus, and . . . please help me to love him.” I add the last part in quickly because I don’t really want to love him. I’m fine with staying annoyed at him for the rest of my life. But I want to love Jesus. And Jesus wants me to love the man. I don’t want my heart to be bitter anymore.
I pray for a lot more people these days. The man included. I don’t love everyone; not even close. Most days I don’t even realize the irritation I’m harboring inside. But I’m trying more than I was trying last week, and there’s grace for me in that.
Do you believe there’s grace for you? I’ll tell you what my friend told me: Yes. I know there is.