A little over a year ago, my wife, who also works at Fuller, was gifted with a copy of Praying at Burger King by Fuller President Richard Mouw. The book collects a lot of short pieces that Mouw has written elsewhere, especially through a blog he used to keep on Beliefnet (so far as I can tell, Mouw no longer blogs for Beliefnet, but he still blogs regularly through his own blog at Fuller: Mouw's Musings). I've enjoyed reading through the bite-sized reflections as I've found the occasional free moment, and an incident happened the other day that brought to mind the first couple of reflections in the book.
In the first piece, from which book gets its name, Mouw reflects on his practice on praying before a meal, even in a place such as Burger King. Even though the restaurant may be loud and not at all "spiritual," he doesn't wait to "get in the mood" to pray, but does so as a discipline. This is a discipline that I share, and which is rather second-nature to me. Let me be clear, I do not pray thinking of my prayers as some kind of a "statement" to the secular world around me. I pray because I think it's important that I acknowledge God's provision for all the good things in my life, including fast-food, and for the time I can take out of my otherwise busy day to enjoy it. Unless I am with my wife or another Christian friend, these prayers are always silent, and I truly don't expect anyone to notice. When I was at Taco Bell the other day, I prayed before my meal as I always do.
But I need to back up a bit to explain something of my Taco Bell experience that reminded me of the next chapter in Mouw's book, which has the title "Eye Contact at McDonald's." Whoever it was who was taking my order was having a particularly difficult time getting orders right, including but not limited to my own, and it was a definite effort for me to not get upset with him. Mouw apparently also has this problem from time to time, and wrote in that chapter about the need to treat people--even cashiers at fast food restaurants--with respect by looking them in the eye and saying "thank you" when they take the order and/or serve the food. I was trying to be fairly conscious about recognizing that, even for a detail-oriented person like myself, keeping track of the subtle distinctions between a "Spicy Chicken Burrito" and a "Chicken Burrito Supreme" (a difference of just one word placed in a different location... and also about $1.30 in price) could become overwhelming in the midst of a busy day with lots of customers who often give fairly complicated orders. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, after going to the trouble of getting my burrito order corrected and the difference in my bill refunded, it took forever to get my replacement burrito served. Again, I tried not to let my frustration show, and thanked the manager when she finally brought my food out. When I prayed on this occasion, I not only prayed my "standard" before-meal prayer, but I also prayed silently for the workers there, that they would be enabled to deal with the multitude of orders that they would no doubt face as the dinner hour brought more customers, and that the mistakes and hiccups would be few.
After finishing my meal, when I went outside to my car, another customer called for me, informing me that he had noticed my prayer and asking what religion I was. He indicated that he was studying the issue of various religions, and was simply curious. He seemed a bit embarrassed about asking such a personal question, but I tried to make sure to give him my attention and answered his simple question. He didn't seem to want to pursue the issue too far, so I didn't tell him as much as I might have ("Well, not only am I a Presbyterian, but I'm a seminary graduate and am seeking ordination as a pastor..."). I assured him that the interruption was a safe one and we went our respective ways. I left Taco Bell mildly surprised not only that my prayer was noticed in this instance, but that this would be the instance in which such a prayer would be noticed. God's up to something. I'm not at all sure what, but it was an interesting reminder nonetheless.