Friday, October 9, 2009

Loving Irritating People

My favorite place to study, as many of you probably know, is Bertolino's, a 24/7 coffee shop in Tacoma. It is certainly not ideal, its drip coffee leaves a bit to be desired, its chairs are not only uncomfortable but somewhat dangerous, and it does get a bit crowded at certain points in the evening. All in all, however, I really do love the place. The fact that it is open at 3am is a large part of it but the real draw is the wide and interesting variety of people who frequent Berts. Most of its baristas are Christians, though the night barista (11pm-5am) is an outspoken atheist, and many of them play Christian Contemporary music over the radio (which means I usually have headphones - my apologies if you enjoy that genre, I cannot endure it). Its patrons, on the other hand, are quite the radical mix of people with whom I really enjoy talking. I have gotten more opportunities to talk gospel with people there without having to try and force the conversation that direction than I have anywhere else that I can remember. Religion is a popular topic and, because I'm always studying "seminary stuff" people ask about it. As a somewhat shy person (this may surprise you, but with people I don't know I actually am) this is great because I don't have to take the initiative. One of the main reasons I continue to go there is because I have built a good number of relationships there and I am looking for ways to share the love of Christ with people. It's a slow process, but I believe I not only genuinely love most of the people I talk to there, but I even truly enjoy the conversations.

I realized the other night, however, that I still have a great deal to learn about love. There's a lady (50, 55? not sure) who has been frequenting Berts lately that drives me nuts. Although I do want to talk to people and I do want opportunities to share the gospel, I also go to study and want to be able to be productive, something I am actually able to do there most of the time - believe it or not. This lady has walked up to me several times when I am deep in my books and just started really off the wall conversations in which I get few words in edgewise. She saw me studying Greek and tried to tell me that Greek came from Latin, which is obviously incorrect, and started to go off on how Latin and Greek have some sort of magical quality, which I didn't really understand. I had never talked to her before but she just intruded into my study session, completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to study. But being the good seminary student that I am, I tried to correct her a little bit (quite gently) but she didn't really listen to me she just went off to another weird topic about more things that made no sense. She is not a completely unique phenomenon. Coffee shops attract these kinds of people. These people do not fall into any sort of definable religious category they are really founders of their own special cult of one. They have some sort of Christianity mixed in usually and even though they claim to be Christian and claim to be some sort of follower of Christ, they are more than a little bit "out there" and need to get a better grasp of who the God of the Bible is.

But back to my unlovingness. The other night I was trying to write a Greek paper for Glessner, which had to be good because the last one was bloody awful, and it was really late at night (I didn't end up sleeping AT ALL that night). When I saw her walk in, I made sure my headphones were in, I kept my eyes zeroed in on my books and computer screen, and I completely avoided eye contact. She made her rounds, like she always does, going from table to table looking for someone to talk to, and, to my delight and someone else's chagrin, she found a victim who had an empty seat next to her and pounced. The lady she was talking to was clearly annoyed but, aside from being extremely rude, which I and most other Washingtonians have a very difficult time with, there was nothing she could do about it. As time progressed, I noticed her begin to kind of ignore her, nodding occasionally but not really looking at her, and eventually she decided to look for someone else. I zeroed back in on my work (thankfully someone else was at my table so there wasn't an open spot) and when she did walk up to me I pretended not to hear her as she tried to start a conversation with, "Oh Greek, that's really cool!". It was believable. I had my headphones in and she wasn't very loud, I honestly only barely heard her, and she went away. She was actually unsuccessful in finding a victim this time and as someone had just vacated the back table, she sat down by herself and drank her coffee. A bit later I saw her bury her head in her arms and I think she fell asleep.

She is obviously a very very lonely woman. She has some form of her own version of Christianity, mixed with God only knows what else, but she needs, wants, and is desperately looking for love. I felt overwhelmingly convicted that I should go back there and talk to her but I resisted it. I was scared that if I did, I would be her victim everytime she came in. I was worried that I would never get out of the conversation if I started one and it was already about 130am, maybe later. I justified it with the argument that it wouldn't do any good anyway. She was nuts afterall and that I really had a lot of work to do so I should get that done too. I didn't talk to her and eventually I left to get a change of scenery (I finished my all nighter at home) but I still feel guilty about it.

But here's where I am looking for help. How do you talk to these people? How do you have a meaningful conversation with people whose own ideas don't really make sense in the least? How do you share the gospel with people who don't really want to listen to you, they just want to talk? I'm afraid of the answers - I don't like where my answer would take me - but I genuinely would like help here.


Jeni said...

Try giving her a set amount of time , set your watch alarm or something and when it's done go back to work. But while you're listening, give it all ya got!Other than that, I don't know, I have the same reactions usually.

Anonymous said...

hmm... this is a tough call matt. i can certainly relate to your predicament. at work, there are a number of patients who require much more time in dealing with them and their issues... time that i usually do not have in a busy environment such as ours. similarly, though i am not categorizing my mom and my aunt as irritating, their needs very often interfere with my schedule and time pressures. though i have not yet effectively mastered how to deal with these types of interruptions, i have learned a few things.

number one, people are not projects to be worked on so that we can convert them to christianity. i think with this type of mindset, which can be very subtle, it's easy to place people in task boxes, something to "do" or "accomplish" when it is convenient for us. let's go through a check list, and check off the amount of time we spent with a person to win them for Christ. the more time we put in (of course when it fits into OUR schedule), the more likely it is they will make that decision. never mind that these are actual people with feelings, thoughts, and desires to just be loved for who they are. people aren't stupid either. they can tell if you're there b/c you genuinely care for them, or if you're there to convert them.

number two, i have learned that people have been placed in my life to teach ME something. Usually, it is to showcase in boldface just how impatient and selfish i am. when i take the time to really listen to people, to serve them, and to show them i genuinely care, that in the end is what changes BOTH of us.

that being said, i think it's also important to remember your own needs too. it's a balance for sure. you may have to study elsewhere on nights where you really need to get something done... or just stop procrastinating so you have more time to devote to others ;-). okay, i think i gave you much more feedback than you wanted and it probably doesn't even help, so i'll stop now.

theone withabeard said...

Bro, I think you are normally good at picking your battles in conversations and focusing on important issues. Every now and then I think your love for historic and scholarly accuracy lets you get irked into correcting people on those issues when they are peripheral.

When we talk about "getting somewhere" in a conversation, does that include the attitude that other people in the cafe see you exude toward this lady and others? Does giving her the sense of significance that she needs? People tend to conform to a group pretty quickly once they feel accepted and secure in it. How would her views change if she became part of a church and less lonely as a result?

Sabrina said...

I think I can relate a little bit...when I used to work at Dightman's, I got into all kinds of conversations with people, and there were many who came in regularly just to talk to me or other employees, because that was, in a sense, the only Christian community they had. I also have a great tendency to want to correct people.

But I found that it was best just to be a really good listener first (and bite my tongue), because it's difficult to tell what a person truly needs after just one, two, or even three conversations. It's after some sort of working relationship is built that I can gently point them in the right direction.

Dunno if that really helps, but it's been my experience. :) Now, off to your previous blog entry...

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul