It’s no secret that I’ve always been the shy girl, so it should shock exactly no one that I like being an anonymous customer. I just want to get what I came for and go, with as little human interaction as possible. I bristle when the checker at the grocery store gets nosy about my purchases. I’m irritated by the restaurant server who wants to engage in friendly chit chat when it’s clearly interrupting the conversation I’m trying to have with my dining companions. I dread the sales associate who hovers when I am shopping for clothes. I want to flee from the mega-emporium employees who interrupt my browsing reverie to ask if I’m finding everything okay (except when I actually need their help, at which time they mysteriously disappear). And I’m embarrassed that the clerk at my local convenience store is on to my Smartfood addiction. If I could shop draped in Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak—so I wouldn’t have to fend off uncomfortable small talk with these well-meaning service providers—I probably would.
But a few nights ago, something happened which taught me that sometimes, being noticed has powerful benefits.
For the past three and a half years, I’ve been meeting regularly with my sister-in-law, Angie, for a biweekly Bible study. The vast majority of those meetings have taken place at a Chipotle restaurant we selected for no other reason than we both love Mexican food, and it happens to be more or less equidistant from our respective homes. For at least half that time, there has been one particular employee who has been there nearly every Sunday night. We chat with him regularly as we pay for our food, and he knows us by name. He notices when we miss a week. He’s been known to comp our sodas. Somehow, despite my best efforts at anonymity, I’ve become a regular. One might even go so far as to say that Angie and I are the Cliff and Norm of this upscale fast food joint. And it’s unfamiliarly reassuring to be on a first name basis with the guy who takes our money week after week.
What we didn’t know until this past Sunday was that he’s been paying attention to the purpose for these weekly visits. Our friendly host isn’t necessarily the kind of person you’d expect a pair of minivan-driving moms immersed in Bible study to have an impact on. With stretched earlobes, multiple facial piercings, and spiked beard, his alternative look might be more likely to inspire one to cross to the other side of the street than to strike up a conversation about God. But it would be a mistake to judge this book by his cover, because tucked into his unique brand of self expression is a sweet, quiet guy with a steady work ethic. I’d be willing to bet that this unlikely face of our Chipotle experience is very loyal to the people in his life.
So we were pleasantly surprised the other night when our Chipotle friend approached first Angie, and then both of us, with a prayer request. He said he hasn’t always been someone who prayed, but he is trying to pray for his girlfriend about a personal difficulty in her life. He asked if we would pray for her too, and also for him as he encourages her. Apparently he has been working up the courage to bring this up with us. For me, that’s a strange role reversal. Usually I’m the one standing in those shoes, wondering how to introduce a potentially awkward topic of conversation. I’d find humor in the irony, except that I recognize it as a universal feeling of self-consciousness. I know exactly how he felt.
Angie guesses it must be the subtle pink streaks she recently added to her hair that finally made us seem approachable. She may be right. I also think it’s no coincidence that this prayer request came on the very night we were studying from the book of Ephesians on the topic of—you guessed it—prayer. But whatever the reason that inspired our favorite cashier to open up, this small step has started a conversation we can now continue.
I learned from the encounter, too. Looking back, I feel shame that when Angie and I first began our meetings, I was bashful about studying the Bible in public. I am so thankful now that we persevered anyway, that I have not been invisible at Chipotle after all, and that our new friend there knows our names. I will honor his prayer request, and I will add to his petition the prayer that through our example, maybe he will come to truly know the most important name of all.