I went to work today with great expectations.
Sunday night I had fun at work. About three weeks ago, we began trying a new thing on Sunday nights because they are usually very slow. We now do a “Sunday Night Special” that I serve from a buffet in the dining room: one meat entrée, one vegetarian entrée, each with vegetable and sides (last night was either chicken and cheese or sweet potato, mushroom, onion, and spinach enchiladas with red beans and rice and salad) for ten dollars. We’ve had a few more people each week and several who are return customers, not the least of which is a group of football players that come to eat. They were the last table, so after I served them, I spent some time talking to them and even learning their names. I left work feeling encouraged and exhilarated.
Today was going to be the day I broke out new menu items (pecan crusted monkfish with bleu cheese polenta and sweet corn sauce and spicy orange hummus, to name a couple). I had worked hard on getting things ready and was looking forward to a great evening. Then I walked in the kitchen to find out the person at our catering shop who does our ordering had failed to order any of my proteins. I was without my meat, fish, or chicken and had to scramble to pull things out of the freezer and make the best of what was available. I was livid. As Ginger will attest, I don’t do well when people don’t do their jobs well.
My friend John also knows this to be true. In a moment a number of years ago (and one I’m not proud of) we were in New Orleans one Sunday afternoon and John had to leave to get back to his church in Mississippi. When we got to the parking garage, the guy who had parked John’s car had failed to put the keys on the appropriate hook and had gone home because his shift had ended while we were eating. The woman behind the counter informed us that the guy must have taken the keys home with him, but didn’t seem to feel any sense of urgency in sorting things out beyond that point. I let my frustration get the best of me and said, “Let me get this straight: this guy’s job is park the car and hang the key on the hook. How could he forget to do half of his job?” When she did nothing to move our situation along, I picked up the phone and said, “Why don’t we call him to bring the keys back?”
I don’t remember exactly how the keys came back. I do know John got his car and the more I reflected on my words and deeds in the moment, the more embarrassed I became. I thought about that Sunday afternoon more than once today, mostly to help me keep some sense of perspective, because I could feel the other little details of the day – Ramon was forty-five minutes late, for instance – inviting me to believe, and even proclaim, that I was the only one doing my job. When I get to the place where I think I’m the only one who isn’t phoning it in or screwing it up, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ve lost my sense of reality.
The first challenge was to make sure my anger was addressed to the right person, and delivered in a way that was not damaging to him or the possibility of a relationship that will allow us to work together in the future. I believe the biblical phrase for all of the above is, “Be angry and sin not.” In the same vein, the second challenge was to make sure my anger didn’t come out sideways on the folks who were working with me tonight, particularly at the servers who take a fairly combative approach to life under the best of circumstances. The third challenge was to do my job well and make a faithful offering of the things over which I do have control.
One of the most intriguing Holy Week scenes to me is Jesus pulling away to pray and taking Peter, James, and John with him and then asking them to stay awake while he went a bit farther to ask God if there was a chance things might turn out differently. He went to pray three times and each time he returned he found the three men fast asleep on the job, failures at meeting his request, and he asked each time,
Couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour?
No. They couldn’t.
Let me be clear here: I’m not drawing any analogies between my day and that night in Jesus’ life, as if to say Jesus, like me, knew what it felt like to be at the mercy of people not doing what they were expected to do. I thought about the story tonight because I wanted to think more about what I might learn from Jesus’ response to the failure of his friends to meet his one simple request. You see, my general response to that story is to see myself in the disciples. Sleep is my escape. In the depths of my depression, sleep was one of the places I could find some relief. The other was the kitchen. So I look at their inability to stay awake and I can postulate about the exhaustion of their grief getting the best of them. The fear and sorrow were too much. While Jesus prayed for his life, Peter, James, and John found their solace in sleep.
Admitting I’m much more like the dozing disciples than I am like Jesus, in this story or in most any situation gives me a chance to find grace and redemption in the ineptness and inefficiency I encountered today. I don’t know what was behind the missed orders. I do know the guy has a lot of stuff going on in his life that would make it hard for me to concentrate if I were in his shoes. I know the catering crew is diving into the busy season and are anxious about it. I also know missing my monkfish is not the end of the world, regardless of how world-ending it may have seemed twenty minutes before service.
About three verses after Jesus woke the tired three from their slumber, Matthew’s gospel recounts:
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Kicking ass and taking names may feel good (no – it does feel good), but it is not the path of life that leads to resurrection and redemption. Be angry and sin not: get it out of your system appropriately, forgive, and move on. I worked hard tonight to not wrap my anger in the violence I so often use as a package. I think I was reasonably successful.
I didn’t find any ears on the floor when I swept at the end of the shift, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.