Meltdown at the Customer Service Desk

I don’t know what came over me, but it wasn’t pretty. I’m normally very even-tempered, but not this afternoon. I had just spent a torturous half hour waiting in line at the post office, and now I was waiting again—this time behind a woman in the customer service line at Target. All I had to do was return two belts.

I admit it, I was already grumpy because I had to return the belts in the first place. I don’t enjoy shopping, but I had braved the Black Friday sales the weekend before to snag some great clothing deals for my husband. When the time came to choose belts to go with the outfits, I knew I was out of my league. Like a man trying to choose a woman’s purse, I needed further insight.

A quick phone call to my husband would solve the mystery. Unfortunately, my husband, who usually wears his phone on his hip, had chosen to take it off and lie down for a nap. When I couldn’t reach him, I chose two belts I thought would work. Of course, they were the wrong size, the wrong style, and the wrong material.

So now, two days later, I’d not only shopped, but was now unshopping. If there’s one thing I hate more than shopping, it’s unshopping. And then shopping AGAIN for the same items.

Back to Target I go. I have the belts, with the tags still on them, and the receipt. It should be a simple transaction, right? Until Frozen Woman gets between me and my refund.

Did you know that when you order a Ship to Store life-sized Frozen Elsa Doll, you cannot simply pick it up at the Customer Service desk? Apparently it takes no fewer than three associates, including the one assigned to handle simple returns, to assist you.

Like Secret Service agents preparing for a presidential visit to a foreign land, men with walkie-talkies and silicone earpieces direct traffic and ensure safe passage of Princess Elsa from the stockroom to the door. Small children holding tightly to their mothers’ hands stop to wave as she passes by. All forward motion in the store grinds to a halt until the princess, surrounded by her entourage and safely ensconced in her red shopping cart limo, rolls out the door.

And all I want to do is to return two stinkin’ belts.

When the customer service associate finally returns to her register, I plaster on a smile that convinces no one. I’m mentally calculating the level of traffic that has exponentially increased between me and my destination during the 20-minute Elsa motorcade. I’m crossing off the errand I hoped to do enroute. And I’m stuffing down impatience and frustration while the lyrics from “Silent Night” mock me in the background. All is calm. All is bright. . .

The only thing calm, I think, is Elsa, safe inside her nice dark box and on her way to her destination, which is more than I can say for myself.

I’m not sure how the celebration of the birth of Christ becomes a season that brings out the worst in us, but it happens every year. In the hours that followed my near meltdown, I gained some perspective I think is worth sharing.

1. Stress (whether it’s holiday, work, family, or ministry) doesn’t cause our sin, it reveals it.

When you squeeze a toothpaste tube, toothpaste comes out. When you squeeze a sinner, sin comes out. When you squeeze a sinner who has Christ living inside her, Jesus should come out.

It doesn’t mean much when we’re patient, kind, and pleasant when everything’s going our way. It’s easy to be like Jesus then. Throw a life-sized Frozen Elsa motorcade into the mix, however, and our true natures come out.

We can use these episodes like a doctor uses diagnostic tests—to reveal what’s sick inside us and help us implement a cure.

My friend Linda trains service dogs. As part of their preparation, she puts them into situations they’re likely to encounter when escorting their future owners. Exposing them to crowds, traffic, sudden movements, and loud noises teaches them to be self-controlled, calm, and steady.

We can view challenging encounters like my Target stop in the same way. Every morning, even before we climb out of bed, we can say, Today is a test, allowed by God, to give me the opportunity to show Jesus to someone. Will I pass or fail? Then, instead of being surprised by the fiery trial, we can expect it. Like a scheduled exam instead of a pop quiz, we are better prepared to pass if we know the test is coming.

2. It shouldn’t surprise us that Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s advent on the earth, brings out the worst in the world.

Road rage, Black Friday stampedes, and increased numbers of robberies and purse snatchings are just a few examples of the sinful behavior we see during the holiday season.

In a strange way, even this points to Jesus.

Christ came into the world to save mankind from our sins. Because we can never be good enough (believe me, I tried really hard that day in Target), we all need a Savior. No amount of self-control or determination can make us perfect, yet perfect is God’s standard if we want a relationship with him.

The sinful behavior we witness and exhibit during the holiday season is undeniable proof that we need the Christ of Christmas to transform us. Without the Holy Spirit living inside us, sanding off the rough spots in our character, and transforming us to be like Christ, we are hopeless.

So the next time Elsa rolls by and you’re about to have a meltdown, take a deep breath and remind yourself, This is a test—a test I can pass with Jesus’ help.

And the next time you see someone in the middle of a meltdown, pray for her. Realize, this is why Jesus came—because sinners need a Savior. Then do what you can to breathe grace into the situation.

May God fill your holiday season with opportunities to shine for him.

If you're reading by email, click here to listen to Pentatonix' beautiful rendition of Silent Night.


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I suspect there are quite a few busy women on your Christmas list. Friends, co-workers, fellow church members, and your children's teachers, coaches, and babysitters, just to name a few. If you'd like to give them a gift that will draw them closer to the Lord, encourage them to spend time in God's Word, and think biblically, Hungry for God ... Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women is the gift you're looking for. 

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  1. I know exactly what you mean, but it's my pregnancy that's making me short-tempered these days. Except that it's not the exhaustion of being pregnant; it's just that the exhaustion unmasks what's already there. Being well rested lets me hide and cover up my impatience. So I ask God for patience every day, multiple times per day, with my children because I just don't have it these days.

    1. Oh my, Nikki, hormones are the greatest challenge we women face. But you're right, hormones, lack of sleep, etc. are no excuse to sin. But recognizing our weak times helps us prevent at least some of the times we feel most stressed. I said a prayer for you today, that your patience muscle will grow as you exercise it. Christmas blessings to you!