The LORD gifted me with two talents — photography and writing. Doing those things provide a sense of fulfillment. However, most people only know what I do to pay the bills — working at the corner store to supplement my income, but it doesn’t provide the same measure of fulfillment, if any.
And customer’s perceptions are interesting. Regulars afford me respect and admiration, while others are sometimes overheard whispering, “I’d never work in a place like this.” Understand that people who see no value in what I do will make a judgement and treat me accordingly. I have been cursed by patrons more times than I can remember, and beaten so badly I had to go to urgent care.
The other night a customer came in and had a fit because there was no hot food on the grill. Well, the health department requires that the food be tossed after four hours, and the grill cleaned. This didn’t sit well with him so he started kicking the air — demanding that I put on some fresh hot dogs. He stood at the counter shouting profanities, and returned moments later to yell at another employee who ordered him to leave. Then he hollered through the window at the both of us. The irony is that he didn’t even have enough money to pay for a pack of gum.
It is a mystery to me, but I don’t see people behaving so badly at the full-service grocery store as they do at a convenience store. There has to be a psychological factor as to how people view those who work in what might be considered by some menial labor. The very worst customer will speak to me in a manner that is socially unacceptable most anywhere else; and with a sense of impunity that I just have to stand at the counter and take their abuse.
A lot of people simply have no respect for service workers. The attitude is that low-wage employees haven’t the brains or aptitude to do anything else. I am apprehensive about sharing with such people that I have a graduate degree because it only validates their perception, “Why are you working here?” I’m 62 years old. This is retirement income. For others it might be a 2nd or 3rd job that helps to pay for necessary expenses.
I was working mid-shift the other day, and rushing through a line of people that just wouldn’t end. The next customer set down an opened energy drink that (when I reached to scan it) splashed all over the glass counter. What a sticky mess. Okay, so I confessed to God that I detest it when people consume food before they pay. And here’s the reason why. Often they will eat the item (and leave the store), or they forgot their wallet. Either way they don’t pay. We lose thousands of dollars to shoplifters and scavengers. (On Christmas Eve some fellows ran off with three cases of beer. The cashier tackled them outside and recovered the merchandise. I don’t know what bothered me more — the beer thieves, or that I had to work on the holiday … every holiday, actually.)
So I bit my tongue — in this line of work I have little left to bite — and graciously said, “I didn’t expect the can to be opened.” The guy said to me in a smarmy way, “Sometimes we don’t always get what we want.” The line was getting longer as I hurriedly wiped the counter, and then the tone of his comment struck a nerve and I responded quite firmly, “It would be nice if you paid for the drink first.” This encounter did not end well. It only takes one customer to ruin your day.
But this is what service workers have to endure every day. I went home that night asking myself, “What would Jesus do?” Of course, our Lord would turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). I spent the day studying this verse in Matthew in an attempt to justify the way I handled the incident.
We all quote and admire the words as painting an ideal meekness. But most men feel also that they cannot act on them literally; that to make the attempt, as has been done by some whom the world calls dreamers or fanatics, would throw society into confusion and make the meek the victims. The question meets us, therefore, Were they meant to be obeyed in the letter; and if not, what do they command? 
There are many articles online that deal with the Christian response to rude behavior, but the Bible is quite clear — we are to resist the Evil One (James 4:7), but not evil people. My theology has always been to oppose evil in all of its manifestations — even smarmy customers. Context please … certainly, Jesus does not mean that a Christian man should meekly surrender the safety and welfare of his family to any physical threat. I searched for hours trying to find scripture to defend my viewpoint, but that is like taking a verse out of context to support what is only a private interpretation.
However, I did find a somewhat validating sermon from August 17, 2003 titled Jesus on Difficult People:
Difficult people are special. They are always there for us when others aren’t, but especially on our bad days. When all hope seems lost. They have an uncanny way of saying things that just dampens the day! They can always be counted on to bring out the worst in us, to be obtuse and disagreeable, to make easy things impossible … 
The key to our understanding is that difficult people are not necessarily evil — just obnoxious and rude. How, then, do we deal with them? According to the sermon we don’t passively or meekly surrender to ill-treatment, but firmly respond with grace and truth. An obnoxious person either doesn’t know their behavior is offensive, or they don’t care. The evil person, on the other hand, knows they’re offensive and they live to spread misery. In any case, rude people have neither been taught nor confronted with the charge that their behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Now, in most cases I simply turn my cheek to boorish customers, but there are occasions when a graceful request — like paying first before you eat — might effect a positive change of behavior that will be of future benefit to my fellow service workers.
And remember this — the next time you are on the receiving end of poor customer service try to be forgiving like Jesus. Maybe the customer before you acted like a toad.
1. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, Charles John Ellicott, [ND].
2. Lakeside Christian Church, Jesus on Difficult People, August 17, 2003.
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