Paying it Forward
The other day I was waiting in a painfully long line at Starbucks on my way to work. Painfully long as in three cars. I ordered my common morning pick me up, a grande Pike Place. As I wait for the people in front of me to order their “Caramel mocha focha docha lattes skinny with soy milk espresso,” I grow in anticipation. It is too early for me to be waiting on this. I pull up to the window and my window is frozen shut. I open my door enough to stick my Starbucks gift card out the window and also, the most important part, getting my coffee into my hands. As I reach out with my gift card, the woman at the window informs me: “The person in the car in front of you has paid for your coffee.”
I was thrilled. MMMMMM FREE COFFEE! God is happy with me today. But before I close my door, I hand her my card and say, “Get the person behind me.”
What I had just experienced is commonly called “Paying it Forward.”
It sounds like a really nice gesture, and it is. But as I was going through this experience, I was quickly thinking and processing my feelings. First was obvious, FREE COFFEE!!!! Then I thought, “How long has this been going on today?” I had seen a story on the local news about how one Starbucks in town had 50 some-odd people “paying it forward.” Then I thought, “I can’t be the guy who breaks this cycle and look like a total jerk. The social pressure to continue with this trend was very high. Then after I gave her my card, I thought, “Wait a minute, what if the person behind me just ordered a $10 coffee?!?!” I obviously did not have that kind of budget.
As I fell into the social pressure that was placed upon me by complete strangers, I pulled out of the parking lot, finally with my coffee, and I thought: “WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THAT?!”
Really people?? That is the best we can do today? I am sure that the $3 you paid for some other persons coffee really made a difference in the world. I didn’t pull into Starbucks hoping to get a free coffee. I pulled in because I knew I had the $3 for coffee. I also suspect that every other person in that line also had the money to pay for their coffee. Why?! Why in a city with a very visible homeless community are we spending money on other middle class people’s coffee? At the location of this Starbucks, we are all heading into downtown, where we will all pass at least 3 homeless people on the corners. Why are we continuing to pay it forward to people who don’t need it? I love my coffee, but it is not life or death. Why didn’t I break the cycle, and not pay for the person behind and instead give the remainder of my gift card to the man who sits on the bench outside of the Disciples Center everyday?
Why wasn’t I the one who broke the cycle of paying it forward, and really just doing what God called me to do, serving the least of these?
Social pressure is sometimes too quick and too powerful to even realize what is truly happening. Sometimes we don’t have time to discern and exegete every single situation. Sometimes we just go with the flow. Sometimes we just fail.
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