The service industry (retail, customer service, restaurants, etc.) is generally disliked among many of the people who work in it. According to an article on trade.gov, service jobs accounted for over 80% of the United States job market in 2009. Having looked for work in this sector this past year myself, most of the jobs I had seen posted were for sales, customer service, and servers. That being said, with unemployment rates slowly but surely going down and the difficulty many people face finding a job in their major after college, many have been taking what they can get over the years—and sometimes the getting isn’t so good.
I’m sure we’ve all seen a few “retail memes” here and there, detailing the misadventures of working at the mall, the grocery store, etc. Or perhaps an old classmate has shared a post or two about needing to decompress after a “long day of pretending to like people.” There’s a reason even nonbelievers say, “Lord, give me strength.”
Admittedly, working with people can be exhausting after a while. It’s easy to lose patience when all you can think about is going home and not having to reset a shelf of t-shirts for the fiftieth time; or better yet, finally getting to stop reciting the latest sales pitch like a broken record. Patience is something instilled in retail workers, but throughout each and every shift it’s constantly being put to the test.
When first starting any job involving service to the public, one of the biggest parts of training is learning how to provide excellent customer service. You’re taught how to properly greet, assist, and serve each patron that walks through your doors. At first it might not seem so bad when you’re naïve, starry-eyed, and excited you have a means to make money. But as you progress and more is expected of you, the novelty starts to wear off as you experience more and more…customers.
The impatient return customers, the customers that can’t get off their phone to acknowledge you, the customers that mess up the display you worked for what felt like hours on, and of course, the customers that seem like they have no other mission in life but to yell at and be condescending to every clerk they come across. The list is endless.
And yet despite all of this, in order to keep our jobs, we have to bite our tongues no matter how much we want to tell them off and walk out the door. I’ve had moments where I was seconds away from losing it, thinking, “what gives them the right to talk to me that way?” In those moments, I’ve forgotten they’re people going through their own problems and frustrations. I saw their anger or bad attitude as a personal attack and wanted to retaliate. However, not only would doing so more than likely get me fired, or at the very least written up, it would also go against what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” We can apply this to the aforementioned scenario. When someone yells at or insults us (deliberately or otherwise), we should not “hit” them back, fanning the flames and creating a bigger issue. Instead we should be graceful and smile, and ask them how we can be of further assistance.
Being the bigger person and offering grace to those who do us wrong is perhaps one of the most important things we can do as Christians, and is something practiced in the service industry on a daily basis. Whether it’s genuine or not, every employee is expected to “turn the other cheek” when a customer is being difficult, to make the company look good and keep the customer coming back. The same can be said about those who insult or “slap” us outside of our working lives. It’s not always easy; in fact, sometimes it seems downright impossible but in the end it’s all worthwhile.
Paul said to the Galatians in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” This most definitely can be applied to persevering in the workplace. If we muddle through and don’t give up on being a gracious servant at work, the payoff in the end may be a promotion, a raise, or better yet, help us to grow our faith as we use these opportunities to serve our fellow humans in Jesus’s name.
It can’t be stressed enough that working in customer service can be a bit of an emotional workout, but if we do our jobs correctly, it can be just the spiritual strength-training we need.
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