Service With a Smile: A Lesson in Gratitude

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Restaurant Server

I work at a restaurant, serving delightful meals and memorable experiences to guests of all kinds. A few weeks ago I was in the midst of a shift when I could sense my attitude running amuck. Making comparisons to the woman working next to me, my mind began racing about how I was the victim of some unfair circumstances that would keep me from making as much money that night as I ought to. That triggered other insecurities, and soon I was a total head case. I began getting so caught up in my own entitlement that I was sure that the world around me was out to get me.

At the same time, I returned to a table of two guests who were very friendly. They mentioned that they were referring to me as “perma-smile” because every time they saw me I was smiling. Needless to say, this was news to me given my interior state at that moment. I suppose that a lot of experience has paid off in allowing me to keep a smile on my face regardless of the way I’m feeling (which, I’m sure my coworkers would attest to, I fail at a lot).

Instantly I was offered a reprieve—even a moment to laugh at myself for how glum I had become while stewing over very short-term concerns that I had blown way out of proportion. The couple asked me why I was smiling so much, and I replied with a surface-level comment about how some of my coworkers are pretty funny and make me chuckle.

They wanted more explanation than that.

They asked me where I find my joy. Again, I felt a bit fraudulent for even being asked the question. However, I decided that I would be a little bit vulnerable with these two and share with them the blessings that I’ve received as a result of finding recovery from the hopelessness of drug addiction and alcoholism. I mentioned that five years ago my life was dark and joy seemed impossible. I was drinking and doing drugs just to escape from the reality that every dream I had in life was slipping away from me. I shared that God has done incredible things in my life and has given me another chance.

While speaking these words to them it felt more like I was speaking these words to myself, or even that God was placing this moment in my life to remind me of the blessings that truly matter. It was Him, once again, doing for me what I could not do for myself.

The honesty in my response (which I try not to invade people with too often while I’m at work) had them stunned a bit. They were delighted to hear my story, and asked what I was doing to share my testimony with others. I mentioned that I’m in the process of writing a book that will be published by Ave Maria Press next year and that I’ve started a nonprofit organization designed to offer hope to those still struggling. In addition, I shared that I am engaged to a beautiful and holy woman who I will marry in September.  Speaking this aloud, I caught myself being amazed at the possibilities that lie ahead and the blessings made present.

At that moment, in the midst of a chaotic work night that my mind was sabotaging, I was able to utilize one of the most effective tools I’ve learned in recovery: a gratitude list. It brought me back to those first few weeks and months of sobriety when I had nothing other than the hope that God was there for me and could aid me in living a new and meaningful life. In addition to being grateful for the wonderful things that God’s mercy has brought to my life, it also helped me appreciate some healthy coping mechanisms that I’ve learned from others since getting sober.

Situations like this, when I get caught up in destructive thinking, bring me back to previous feelings of victimhood that I nestled very close to while active in my alcoholism and drug addiction. There are moments like these when numbing the pain through self-medicating starts to seem like the best, most logical option. It’s insanity. To the addict who has not gotten the chance to experience a different approach to life through recovery, it may seem like the only option. Thanks to God, that cycle does not have to continue.

We are not responsible for the first thought, but we are responsible for how long we entertain it. By developing a set of tools to handle unfavorable circumstances, we can live a life of freedom and a life of happiness as we look to serve God and others. Even the most discouraging moments (whether justified or not) can bring an opportunity to share the Good News of God’s grace with others and with ourselves.

It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. When we find ourselves restless, irritable, or discontent, we have a chance to be reminded that we cannot do this on our own.  We can find freedom and a new sense of gratitude by sharing what’s really going on with God or with a friend we trust.  When we’re unwilling to take that action, sometimes help can come in the form of an anonymous couple enjoying a date night together.