“Twenty years and he wants a divorce.”
I freeze. Soap bubbles still running on my hands. The lady leans across the coffee bar with sad, translucent eyes. Seconds ago, she was wincing about how we ran out of kombucha. Now she’s nodding her head, chin propped up by her hand, like, yes, so sad, but she’s telling me how her husband asked for a divorce.
Placing that in the room makes everything else feel trivial. The clogged-up sink I needed to drain. The counter, dusted with frappé powder. Some of the customers have empty glasses—I need to get those. But also, this woman is going through a divorce.
Almost a year ago, I started volunteering for a café and I LOVE it. I love opening up the shop early morning and having it all to myself for the first half-hour. I love building relationships with the customers and fellow baristas. I love bringing joy in a cuppa. One time I served a hot chocolate to a little girl and her eyes lit up as though I had bestowed an American Girl doll to her.
But recently, another volunteer opportunity snaked into my path. This time, I actually thought about it. In the past, I have been tempted by other commitments—from women’s fellowship groups to volunteer work at an equine therapy ranch—but none have felt as important as this one.
It meant serving in the church and I knew it would be a commitment. Like an extra workout session in the week; another activity that would drain me. Because working at a coffeeshop is draining. Physically but more so, emotionally. Like a bartender, a barista is seen as someone to open up to. At least in my experience, customers tell me all sorts of things.
Of course, this is the first time a customer has shared her marital crisis. As she discloses the emotional and spiritual struggle she’s enduring, I wonder: how do I serve her not as a barista but as someone who aspires to demonstrate Jesus’s love to others?
Just kidding. Real talk, I was thinking: vat tha heck do I say?
Before this encounter, saying no to church stuff and sticking to the coffeeshop made me feel like a shallow person. Sure, it’s volunteer work but church stuff is, well, church stuff. It’s spiritual. I don’t help people grow in their faith at the café. I wash dishes and serve caramel macchiatos.
“Community is God’s idea, and the purpose of any kind of labor or seemingly-secular responsibility is ultimately to glorify God by serving and benefiting community.”*
So in light of this reality, I step outside the café with the heartbroken woman and pray for her. I know it’s the Christian thing to do. I don’t feel especially holy. But I know this is where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.
Because whether it’s in church among Bibles and hymnals or at a coffeeshop among chipped espresso shots and caramel-flavored syrups, serving others in love means serving God. I know that for certain now.
Photo Credit: Daniel Bhowanidin
*“Work and the Modern Christian Woman,” Whole Magazine, by Jessica Ray