Quite possibly more than any other job I’ve ever had, I learned more about forgiveness and reconciliation while I worked as a server in a restaurant for the three years that I was in seminary.
When you work in a restaurant, you tend to notice patterns in people. One of those things that you see over and over is that when people show up to a restaurant, they’re usually hungry.
And when people are hungry, they’re usually cranky.
And when people are cranky, they’re not usually fun to be around.
That’s when the server steps in.
I saw it as my task in life to bring smiles to the faces of each guest that sat at one of my tables.
Now, some people would just show up happy. They were the easy tables. They were the tables that you could get their entire order completely wrong and they’d say, “Oh, that’s okay. Don’t worry about fixing it. Whatever this is looks good. I’ve been meaning to branch out and try something new anyway.” Those people were wonderful, but they were rare.
Then there were the people who were a little more “normal.” They’d come in so-so, but after getting a drink or an appetizer they were great. If you messed up their order, they’d kindly inform you and ask for it to be fixed. After fixing it, they’d continue with their meal like nothing ever happened.
But then, on the far end of the other side of the spectrum were the mean people. You know who you are…! These are the people who walk in mad and have already decided to be mad throughout their entire meal before they have even been seated or met their server.
You could spot these people as you spied on your table from across the room. They’d either have face intensely dug into their menu, or they’d already have their minds made up and their menus stacked in a pile as if they’d been waiting there for 30 minutes already, even though you just saw the host seat them.
These were the people I saw as my personal projects. I was going to make them smile if it took every last ounce of my soul.
So, I’d approach their table and say, “Hi, I’m Josh and I’ll be taking care of you this evening,” as I wrote my name upside-down and backwards using the crayons on the table. Usually the whole happy-greeting-thing didn’t go over so well with these people, so I’d keep it short and sweet. I would quickly take their drink orders and then the challenge would begin.
But here’s the deal. This is what I learned. I could try as hard I wanted, and I could provide them spotless service, but it wouldn’t make them smile. Again, these people were determined to not crack!
They were constantly looking for me to mess something up. But ironically, when a mistake was made, whether it was my fault or not, a window of opportunity was opened to show them some unexpected hospitality, and more often than not, that would finally make them smile.
Now, I wouldn’t say I would mess things up on purpose so I that I could apologize and make things better, but after I noticed this pattern, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from pointing something out, sometimes even before the guest noticed that anything was wrong.
It was in that restaurant that I learned the power of addressing conflict on the spot, rather than ignoring it and letting it simmer until it blew up. When I would take responsibility and apologize for something, and not pass the blame to the cooks or to anyone else in the restaurant, the guests would usually respect that and I would have the opportunity to not just make things right, but to make them even better than they would have been without the mistake in the first place.
Why are we so afraid of conflict? Why do we ignore it, letting it burrow and grow? Think about a relationship in your life that has been broken by anger and a lack of forgiveness, whether it’s with a spouse, friend, or coworker. The longer you run away from the conflict, the worse it will get. Make that broken relationship your personal project, your “mean restaurant guest,” if you will, and pray for the opportunity and the courage to make things right.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”