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Dear lady at Starbucks,

I just wanted to let you know that you won't be getting the job.

I didn't catch the name of the local company you had applied to, but I overheard parts of your interview and I thought you did well. You have admirable accounting skills and you have worked hard on your career. The interviewer asked good questions and you gave good answers. But you won't be getting the job. I know because the interviewer called her boss right after you left and said that she was going with the other person. Which is sad, really, since you desperately need the job. I could feel the pain when you shared with the interviewer how desperate you really are. Your house is in foreclosure and your husband is very sick and your are deep in the weeds financially. It is a heart rending story and one we hear way too often now days. All that stimulus money and all those programs to help people are not rescuing you and it sure seems like you need rescuing.

The sad thing is that the interviewer gave as one of her reasons for not offering you the job was that you were too desperate, that you were way too needy. She told her boss that she liked you, but that you were not as good a risk as the other finalist because you were having way too much financial trouble. I remember many years ago when I needed a job as desperately as you do now and I applied for a job that paid well below what I had been used to making. I remember the manager of the company telling me he couldn't hire me since I was overqualified and would leave for the first better offer. I wished he knew how broke I was and how loyal I would have been if he had just given me the chance. I sensed the same hopeless desperation that I felt then in your voice as you shared your history with the interviewer. It worked against you and that made me sad.

I wish I had a job for you. I wish I could save your house. I wish your husband could recover from his illness. But my wishes don't matter. They won't change your circumstances. So I prayed. I bowed my head there in the Starbucks and started praying for you. I asked God for the things I just listed. I asked him to surprise you with grace. I asked him to send you on another interview where they hire you for more money then you dare to ask for and that you get the kind of job you love to go to in the morning. I asked God if he would heal your husband and save your house and give you a big Christmas bonus and a nice turkey dinner with family at Thanksgiving. I asked him because he is a Dad to me. A big huge strong super Dad who can do anything he wants to do. And he lets me ask for anything. My Dad here on earth was a pretty weak man who died young and left me with lots of issues, but my Dad in heaven is amazing. He says I can be like my own boys were when they were little and they believed I was capable of anything. I remember when my one kid jumped off the roof and said, "Catch me, Dad!" on the way down. And I leaped over and caught him and then paddled his behind for believing that I would always be there to catch him. My Dad in heaven does great stuff like that. He catches me when I fall through the cracks and he loves me when I am leaping with reckless abandon. I asked him to do it for you, too, since you sure seem to be falling.

I wish I could see how he answers all those prayers. I wish he'd let me in on the process. Maybe I will see you again and be able to give you a gift card to Safeway or hand you a check or a wad of cash. Maybe I'll never see you again. Anyway, I prayed the gospel over you. It was all I knew to do. And I'm sorry you will have to hear the bad news that you didn't get the job. That will be hard to take. Unless God answers my prayers quickly and you have the next interview tomorrow morning. So, I pray for that, too.



Nice letter of empathy, Rod. I ditto your prayer for this woman and the thousands and millions in similar or worse circumstances.

Thanks, Rod, for the eloquent words of compassion and mercy.  I'll be borrowing your prayer on behalf of others.  

Rod, thanks for the reminder of how the spiral down works... and that prayer is sometimes the only response that allows us to go on in hope - and maybe more...


Hi Rod, its been too long... 

I appreciate the love and care the letter shows. There are three other possible dimensions to this that I want to suggest:

1. This woman and her family members are at the end of their rope - and most likely very alone (isolated). People who are at the end of their rope have either burned bridges, or had no  bridges to burn. Either is a sad predicament. They do not have networks working for them to open an employment door. The kind of community that bears one another's burdens is a rarity in American culture today. Clearly this woman is showing initiative, taking personal responsibility. Should we add a prayer of repentance for the church's inability or unwillingness to multiply the kind of community that breaks through her isolation and wraps her in our arms? Can we get to a scenario in which we can say: You may suffer, but you will not suffer alone!

2. An asset based community development approach suggests that we act on what we care about. I have an income, I have a house, with spare rooms, I have a job, I have equity, I have.... So do my neighbors and so do my congregational members. Do I care enough to act? Should we repent for the limits on our willingness and ability to be our neighbor's keeper?

3. It is totally radical and crazy, but God has what is needed in your and my community to love and care for this family and others like her. The tragedy is that we are waiting for an institution to provide the solution and all too often we take ourselves out of the equation. The church does not see herself in the business of harnessing social, economic and other kinds of capital to be our sister's keeper. We can't even imagine that kind of stewardship... We say that all we can do is pray...  that is a denial of God's good gifts present in every community to act and work together for my neighbor's needs. I am not suggesting the good gifts are easy to access, they are not. I want to make the point that prayer is not the only solution. Prayer and harnessing God's abundance in the neighborhood for this woman and her family through her time of suffering should go hand in hand. Is not this the high calling of deacons in a Reformed tradition?


Jay Van Groningen

Thanks Jay,

I appreciate your response. I agree that the church has the ability to do far more for this woman than we think given the resources God has poured out on us. Since she was gone by the time I heard she wouldn't be getting the job, I had no opportunity to approach her and see what I could do to help her out of my church community. Sometimes when I read things such as you wrote I confess I feel guilty. I have been given much and can offer much. I think I violate the law of love toward my neighbor all the time. I remember addressing a class of students at the local community college and one of the students asked if he could shake my hand. He made quite a spectacle of coming in front of the students and shaking my hand and then turned to his classmates and said, "As you know I am a nurse at the mental health hospital and this pastor's church is an amazing place that cares for and helps mentally ill people. They are amazing! I wish all churches were like theirs where it is safe to be mentally ill and where those who struggle are loved and cared for and I wish their church could do even more because the need is so great." I was taken aback and a bit embarrassed because I didn't think we do all that much. We do work with folks who suffer from such diseases as bipolar disorders and depression and interact often with the psychiatric community, and we do try to love well the folks God brings into our purview, but it doesn't quite have the feel this man portrayed. The nurse chatted with me more after class and I asked him what specefic things we did that were helpful. He said, "Look, I am not a believer and I don't go to church, but your church treats those who are mentally ill with dignity and respect. Several times when you or your church members have brought folks to us, you have asked to stay and help and see if there is anything else you can do. You have called and followed up and asked good questions. You have come to visit. You have arranged to have folks picked up and you have even found places in your community where folks can live. That is awesome. Most people just call the cops when there is someone disrupting their worship service, but you gently love the people that most people avoid and despise. The thing is, I still dwell on the statement 'I wish your church could do even more since the need is so great'. What does more look like for me and my community?

I very much agree that our churches contain the resources we need to exercise the gospel of good works. We can very practically love our neighbor. We don't share because we are greedy or we don't share because we think it is someone else's job or we don't share because we are too terrified. After all, one of our bi-polar members threatened to shoot my co-pastor's family and pulled a knife on me. It is sometimes very hard to love because it takes us out of our demand to live in comfort and without threat. That, too, is a mistrust of God's largess, me thinks. When I am facing a man who is off his meds and who is holding a knife, I have to trust God's providential care in very real ways.

On the other hand, I also remember Jesus famous question: Do you want to be healed? Sometimes in my sin I have been pitied and that has felt like love and has hindered me from becoming whole. I like being dragged to the water's edge and waiting for it to ripple. I like the attention it affords me. In this sin twisted world I like to manipulte others to do those things I could do for myself. I have studied those rippling waters for so many years I know I could roll in at just the right time, but I don't dare. I don't want to be healed. Healing means I have to be responsible and become generous and a giver and a dragger of others to the water. It is easier to stay where I am.

I also have a responsibility to make my need known. This is also hard to do. I am ashamed to acknowledge my neediness. I know what it is like to be unemployed and I refused to let people know my family was suffering because I was too proud to admit I needed help. I bless still those who 'saw' and offered to me generously.

My brother taught me a beautiful lesson once. We were having coffee and the server kept ignoring us and treated us rather meanly. We finally went and got our own refills while she pretended we didn't exist. When I picked up the check (older brothers always do) he offered to leave the tip. He put a twenty on the table and I said, "Are you insane? The check is only two and a half bucks. Besides, that is the worst service I've ever had anywhere!" Mark said, "I know. I want to give her grace. Unmeritted favor. I want her to experience the spectacular goodness of God. I want to blow her mind." We left the diner and she came out after us waving the twenty and saying, "You forgot this." I'll not forget the look on her face when Mark said, "You can keep it." I often think how that outrageous act of generosity might have changed her life.

Uncle John told me many, many years ago that they grew enough corn in Iowa to feed the world. I must have looked at him a bit skeptically so he added, "The soil is good, the seeds are good, the production methods are good, and the water is good. We can harvest it and we can store it. The problems come in the distribution, because that is where our sin shows up." He was a pretty wise man.

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