The other day I was sending out some documents and stopped into the storefront of a large overnight shipping company near my home in Waco. The young woman behind the counter was friendly and helpful. She looked like a Baylor student working a job on the side -- short blond hair, clear complexion, a flirty green skirt beneath her company shirt. As we completed my transaction, she was all business: "We can get it there by 10 in the morning for $28, or by 3 pm for $26." We were alone in the store, so I took my time in making the myriad decisions that become a part of such a transaction. By the end of the conversation, she was looking at me intently with calm blue eyes.
As I turned to leave she stopped me cold. She stepped from behind the counter and then took a step towards me. As I reached to open the door, she called out to me in a strong, firm voice that I didn't expect.
"Is there anything I can pray for you about?"
It was a strangely intimate moment. I stood still for a second, looking back at this forward young woman. She looked back with those calm blue eyes, waiting for me to answer, one hand on the hip of her green skirt.
Her question was strongly unsettling on many levels. Many of us count on our worlds remaining secular so long as we choose that, saving our faith for an hour on Sunday. Prayer is something we do in church or at home, alone, not in a corporate outpost full of company-logo signs. For someone to suggest prayer in the middle of our shopping seems an almost impossible intrusion.
Then, too, she was suggesting something unforgivably intimate. Our prayers reveal so much about us: what we love, what we worry about, our desires, and the nature of our guilt. Even the bare fact that I believe in God is not something I normally blurt out in a store. Given all that, sharing this intimacy with an unknown college student in a ruffled skirt (who had now turned her head slightly to the side, questioning what I would do) seemed a lot to ask.
Not just the person but the setting seemed wholly incongruous. It briefly occurred to me that perhaps there was some secret to all this, that the prayer would be delivered the same way as an overnight package. There would be a tracking number, and regular reports on the internet about the delivery status of my prayer, and finally confirmation that it had been received.
That moment, though, was only a moment. She was not joking, and this kind of thing does happen in a place like Waco. I could refuse her request without saying anything, just walk out the door, or I could mumble something to the effect that I had nothing that needed praying for. But if I did, would I be any better than Peter in the courtyard, denying Jesus three times? Still she was there, her hand on her hip, her blue eyes questioning.
"Yes," I said, "you can."
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