I am in Starbucks right now, feeling impossibly cool as I sip tea and work on my laptop.
Sometimes I need a change of scenery for working/writing, and I like this Starbucks. It's small and annexed off a book store. I love to watch people come in, carrying the books they just bought, grabbing a coffee, and sitting down to read. That makes me happy.
But I haven't been to Starbucks for a while, so when I went to the counter, I ordered a rooibus tea. Anyone who is familiar with Starbucks tea knows that they no longer sell rooibus tea. They have a very specific new line of tea.
"Oh," I said, because rooibus is my go-to hot drink order anywhere.
"We have other options," the barista said rather quickly. "Yeah, we just made the switch a while ago. And I had a lady in here last week who kind of yelled at me because we didn't have it anymore." He smiled nervously, as if wondering if I was going to yell at him too.
Trying to assuage his fear, I smiled brightly, said, "No, that's totally okay," and ordered a different kind of tea. And he seemed grateful that I did not chew him out for working for a company that no longer sells rooibus tea.
Settling into my chair with my non-rooibus (but pretty delicious) tea, I started thinking about the woman who yelled at the barista. And I thought about how terribly disappointing and unkind that was. Because this barista was a person. A person who had no control of what Starbucks sells and no recourse for her. He was completely defenseless, yet she unleashed a frustration on him that had nothing to do with him.
She saw a human as a function.
And I want to judge her. I really do. Because I never yell at Starbucks employees. I am intentionally warm and kind to cashiers, waiters/waitresses, and sales people. But I realized her display revealed something deeper than mere rudeness - it displayed a lack of empathy.
And that's something I have trouble with too.
Empathy is the outworking of humility and love as you put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's not sympathy. Sympathy is just the feeling of pity or concern for someone. It is good, but it's emotionally detached. Empathy takes it one step further - it is the actual bearing of the feelings someone else is dealing with. It's taking those feelings upon yourself and identifying with them.
For seven days, Job's friends were beautiful examples of empathy. They sat with him in his devastating grief and that was it. No words. Just presence. Just bearing with him. Then they started talking, and their empathy crumbled away to reveal hearts that had no desire to identify with Job's grief.
I am guilty of being like Job's friends, temporarily empathetic - empathetic with some, sometimes. But I lack so much empathy for so many others. My judgmentalism can frequently blind me, distract me. Just like that woman who yelled at the barista.
Christians need empathy. Empathy fuels compassion, patience, and ultimately love for others. If you're struggling with a lack of love, a lack of empathy might be the root.
The first step to recovering a more empathetic heart is to be aware of others. See them as individuals. And look deeper than the superficial. These are hearts, regenerate and unregenerate, happy, sad, desperate, content, terrified, angry, anxious, confused, dreaming.
We live in a largely empathy-devoid culture. That's where Christians have an opportunity to be different. We can stand out because of our compassionate love, our willingness to take on burdens that aren't ours, our quiet patience, our steady joy.
And that's what I'm striving for. Starting with Starbucks employees.