I’ve actually been meaning to sit down and write this reflection for almost a year now, but have not gotten around to it until today for whatever reason. Last May it dawned on me that I was coming up on the tenth anniversary of one of the most profound experiences I have had in my Christian life.
It would have been toward the end of May of 2003, at the very end of my senior year of high school. My family was out of town because of my cousin’s wedding, but I stayed home because I had to work that weekend. It was my first job I ever held, working as a buss boy in a local French restaurant. Working in any type of service job, whether restaurant or retail, you end up seeing a lot of the best and the worst in people. It is often very draining.
This particular weekend, I showed up to work and was busily going about my work, trying as always to approach my work as something done unto the Lord, keeping in mind St. Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3: 23-24: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” I found oftentimes, people would leave their trays and their tables a complete mess with napkins, butter and jelly containers, creamer and sweetener packets left in a heaping mess all over the place. I had gotten into the habit of wadding all of these things up and putting them in the glasses as I had seen others do to try and clear up space so I could consolidate as much as possible onto one tray and make fewer trips. I was genuinely seeking to do the best work I could and took pride in it.
Being a buss boy, I had to work closely with the dish washer. He was a generally kindly man from one of the countries – Senegal, I believe – which had formerly been the colony of French West Africa. He was a Muslim probably somewhere in his 40s or 50s at the time. This particular morning he decided to scold me for putting the napkins in the glasses, and I took offense, as I was working hard and trying to do my best. He went to the manager on duty, who was also the owner, and the owner told me to do it the way the dishwasher wanted. I was unhappy at being rebuked, and went about my work silently fuming for a few hours. The dishwasher and I would not speak to one another.
I kept praying “Lord, you see I’m trying to do a good job. Why did he have to go and get the owner to tell me to do it differently?” Gradually, I kept hearing this still, small voice in my heart repeating Jesus’s words:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5: 23-26)
I began to argue back “But I didn’t do anything wrong! You want me to apologize?” The repetition of our Lord’s words became more and more insistent. Finally, after about three hours of arguing with the Lord, I sat the tray in my hand down in frustration on the table and said to the Lord “You really want me to go and apologize?! But I didn’t do anything wrong!!!” To this, I felt the Lord respond in my heart “Do you love Me enough to do it?” At that point, I felt deflated and saw my pride. “Alright, Lord.”
So I went sheepishly into the kitchen and said to the dish washer something to this effect as I don’t remember my words exactly: “Hey I’m sorry I got mad. I was really trying to do a good job, but I should have listened to you and not gotten angry. I’m a Christian, and that’s not how the Lord wants me to act.” This African man teared up, took me in his arms and gave me a big hug and said “You are good boy!” And he started telling me about how he was working in the States as he had been for several years to support his family back in Africa, and that he took pride in his work and tried to do a good job. The reason he had taken me to task over the glasses was because he was concerned about sanitation and that the dishwasher would not get them clean enough, leaving paper residue. Then he took out his wallet and showed me pictures of his kids.
I don’t know how else to describe it other than that in that moment of reconciliation, I felt the Holy Spirit come down in power on me. I felt a tremendous outpouring of the divine Love, a deep warmth which must be very much akin to how John Wesley talked of his heart being “strangely warmed.” Somehow, in that simple exchange, I was completely and overwhelmingly immersed in the infinite love of God and consumed by it. I also saw that it wasn’t a matter of either one of us being right and the other wrong. Indeed we had both sincerely been trying to do our best. But reconciliation was needed.
The whole rest of that weekend, my outlook was completely transformed. I was looking on everyone as if he or she was Christ Himself and if they asked me for something, I took it as Jesus asking me for it- and I mean it quite literally that I took it as a request from Christ. I was looking on everyone with a supernatural love that did not come from me. Even the most difficult customers I looked on as if they were Christ, and only once or twice did I feel a flash of irritation with anyone. I was even doing my work much more quickly and efficiently. And the point I absolutely must emphasize is that none of it came from me, it was completely the action of divine grace working in me.
I have to admit, there was the part of me that was frightened to be so completely consumed by the Holy Spirit. That weekend was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Would that I lived every day like that.
Come down, O Love Divine!
Seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near;
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing!
O let it freely burn
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming!
And let Thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight
And clothe me round the while my path illuming!
Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be
And lowliness become mine inner clothing,
True lowliness of heart
Which takes the humbler part
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong
With which the soul will long
Shall far outpass the power of human telling!
For none can guess its grace
Till he become a place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.