In Search of a Better Story

I work in a call center. It’s an interesting place to work in though I only recommend it for the thick-skinned. It is a demoralizing, dehumanizing and identity stripping environment if you do not guard your heart from all the negativity around you. To give you some idea of what I have hear sometimes I’ll just give you a list of the few epithets that don’t involve swear words because at least these people were creative in treating me like a trained animal. But I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the context of the business I work in because some of these don’t make sense unless you know what I’m talking to these people about.

The company I work for handles pharmacy benefits for a lot of insurance companies and contracts out mail order pharmacy services to an even greater number of companies. So, we deal with two things that are very dear to people 1) money and 2) pharmaceuticals. With that context in mind, here is a list of names that readily come to mind when I think of names I’ve been called that don’t involve swear words.

1. Killer
2. Contract Killer (my personal favorite)
3. Thief
4. Liar
5. Worthless
6. Puppet
7. Mindless
8. Heartless

OK, so not as long a list as I had originally thought but then I remembered that I was omitting the ones with cursing. The list gets many times longer as you can imagine. It’s difficult not to take this kind of stuff to heart when you’ve been doing my job or jobs like it for almost 7 years like I have. The trick is to remember is that, most of the time, they’re not really mad at you but at the system or at policies. Sometimes, though, they’re mad at you because you are the voice telling them things that don’t fit their line of thinking. But I think if I were to reflect on the terrible and nasty things that have been said to me over the years I think there is one statement that sticks out more than anything else. I’ll give you no context because it doesn’t matter.

Once, I was told I was going to hell because I’m white.

I’m not joking. Remove your palms from your faces.

We’re not done.

The upside to working in an environment like that is the people you tend to work with. At the entry level you don’t tend to get a lot of super… I don’t want to use the word normal because that’s such a subjective term… I guess I will say that it is a very colorful environment with a lot of different cultural, social and economic expressions. I’m presently laughing at myself for such a presentation but there it is. So, there’s a lot of diversity which I really like. Though, if I’m honest, I still stick out like a sore thumb even in that setting.

But it’s not just appearances that set me apart there. There are a lot of stories of different walks of life just from the people around me. Just recently I’ve really started to get to know the people who sit in my general vicinity and I have marveled to myself at the stories that I’ve been told. There was the woman who told me how she swore up and down she’d never have children. Then she was telling me how she had a kid and it changed her life. But she also told me how she was thinking about getting a divorce and my heart broke for her. I was saddened even more when she left the company.

Recently, I’ve been talking to this guy who sits near me. He has recently become a father and likes to talk about martial arts and being in the army. But we got to talking about relationships and his views on women are far different from mine. He doesn’t mind entertaining a different woman every week and doesn’t really have any love for the mother of his child. In fact, he was telling me about how happy he was that he was moving and she wasn’t coming with. Some things I just don’t understand. But he asked me for relationship advice the other day. My shift was up before we got to finish the conversation and he got a phone call as I was about to leave.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with a woman at work because she and I had talked enough that she felt comfortable coming to me for advice. I did as I always do in these situations and I listened. I told her what I thought (which is not pertinent to our conversation here) and then something happened that has not happened to me in a long time. What started out as a fairly surface level chat somehow turned into this very deep and probing conversation. I don’t ever know how it happens but people end up telling me about themselves at levels they’re not normally comfortable sharing with people they don’t know that well, typically. It’s times like these I wonder how deep my analytical skills go.

If you really try, can you exegete people?

One of the benefits of being God in the flesh was that Jesus could see into the minds and the hearts of other people. This ability was displayed powerfully at a well in Sychar which was inhabited by Samaritans. This is an interesting social dynamic because the Samaritans weren’t like much by Jews because they didn’t have enough Jewishness. Jesus chills at a well in this area while his disciples are off doing disciple business of some sort. He is met by a woman who is drawing water at noon by herself.

Does something seem a little off?

It’s noon in 1st century Palestine and this woman chooses to go out to the well and draw water from it. I’d imagine it was pretty warm. Jesus seemed to think so he asked for a drink. This blows up the woman’s paradigm and a conversation regarding water and spiritual things ensues. But what really strikes me about this story is that Jesus tells her to get her husband. That seems simple enough in a patriarchal society and pretty rational considering the context. The woman says she has no husband which is true and Jesus affirms the fact that she has no husband now but reveals the fact that he knows that she’s gone through 5 husbands and is currently shacking up with a dude who isn’t her husband. She didn’t lie to Jesus.

Jesus still knew the truth. And he told her a better story. But

He saw

right

through

her.

There was a rich guy who wanted what Jesus was talking about, eternal life. I wonder if he was like any of the rich kids I knew back in the day who would follow whatever was big at the time. Or maybe he thought he had everything until he found out he didn’t have eternal life and just had to have it. In any case, he asked what it would take to obtain this eternal life Jesus was talking about. Jesus tells him five things which happen to be five of the 10 words or commandments which are near the very heart of Jewish law. This “ruler” as he’s referred to in the text says that’s kept all of those since he was young. One wonders what everyone around him was thinking when he said that. The judgemental part of me calls shenanigans when I read that.

But Jesus does a much better job of getting to the heart of this man.

His response is so fantastic:

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV)

Jesus wants to connect him to a story better than anything he possesses.

And the rich man just

walks

away.

The woman I work with who I had that really deep conversation with told me some things she said she doesn’t normally tell other people. I don’t know what I did or said to evoke that information from her but I saw her heart and told her what I saw. She devoted a lot of her time to making other people happy. Things that are as simple as buying drinks and paying the check for other people and even going as far as doing shoe drives. She has made it clear she can’t buy into God at least in the way she understands him. It’s understandable, I guess, having grown up on the very buckle of the Bible Belt and growing up hearing Jesus is the answer when things got rough and no other helpful words, I can understand how God could seem like a very distant and cold idea. And some of the details she shared with me that I won’t air here just broke my heart but it helped me see her. Deep down, she can’t not be in control. She would literally dig her fingers into her hands, nearly drawing blood when I told her what I saw.

She has to make everyone around her happy so that they don’t have to hear her heartbreaking story.

I want her to hear a better story.

Just like the dude I work with who treats women like drive in restaurants and doesn’t seem to understand that sex is more about love and less about getting what he feels is his.

And the woman who doesn’t work with me anymore who is going through a divorce and will have to deal with custody battles. I gave her the information to my church and I desperately hope she shows up some day out of the blue because I want her to know that there are real people out there just like her who are searching for a better story and they fail at times too.

Just like the man who had a view of YHWH so unbelievably skewed and seemed to have been battered so hard by a system that told him that God was the reason the white man was better than the black man.

And me. I want to tell a better story and be better part of the story that brought me here. I want to be able to see the things in people that Jesus sees and to help them turn that into a story that has anguish, pain and suffering but a story that shows that there is an end to it all. I want them to know that while the story may never end in the grand scheme of things, that we will go on to see eternity, but in the short view the things that they are doing, have had done to them and are thinking about doing will ultimately stop somehow and that Jesus has written a better story for them.

They don’t have to live like this.

They don’t have to hide behind a smile. They don’t have to seek themselves to be happy. They don’t have to be scared of what people think. They don’t have to constantly be picking up the pieces.

They don’t have to live like this.

You don’t have to live like this. You, like them, have the chance to write a better story.

Just

ask

how

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