“What do you do?” She was cutting my hair at one of these express haircut places. I’ll call her Renee, and she’s in her forties, I think, with beautiful skin and eyes. Her hair is perfect, with a splash of neon pink dancing like a ballerina down one side. The shop’s lights sparkle off her earrings and piercings.
“What do you do?” I can dread this question. Honestly, what is a minister to say in a world where fewer and fewer people understand the church or what a Christian pastor does? There are so many stereotypes running in people’s heads. Old tapes and disappointments. And how do you explain a job where roles flex, and you are always a confluence of preacher-pastor-shepherd-parent-therapist-theologian-doctor-teacher-leader?
I gave the hair dresser my normal answer, intentionally crafted to give people options for their response. “I have several wonderful jobs,” I said. “People call me Doctor Brad. I am a counselor, a professor, and a Christian minister.” People’s reactions vary, of course. Some drop the conversation, as if I just said I was a mortician or dung beatle researcher. Some avoid the whole religious side, and talk about their counseling experience or their own emotional journeys. Others ask me more about my church, or tell me about their own church experience. Some people ask what I teach. Again, I have thought through an authentic answer with which they can interact. “I teach graduate students about Jesus’ own leadership and spiritual growth practices.” It is broad enough to allow most people to respond either about leadership, Jesus, or about spirituality. After offering my response, I work to energetically listen. I am always trying to exegete (a Greek word for “to draw out meaning”) from this valuable person in front of me.
On this day, the hairdresser has a reaction which surprises me. She pushes a small distance away and looks at me in the mirror the way only hair dressers do. Emphatically she says, “Oh, would you please pray for me?” As she cuts my hair, she begins to unload her current life’s story. A story full of complexity, with joys and sorrows: wayward children, finances, and ex-husbands. The other customers and stylists fall silent, caught up in listening to this honest tale of the heart. She takes fifteen minutes to cut my hair, each snip filled with a little piece of her world. And each lock falls onto my plastic cape with a heart-felt prayer request.
With a chuckle, “I could use some help from God getting my ex to pay alimony.”
With a tear, “I wish God would just hug my daughter today. She’s in a dark place.”
With a squeeze on the shoulder, “My mom’s having surgery. Do you think God could help her recover quickly?”
With a deep breath, “I really need a spiritual touch in my own heart, too. I can get so damn hard, y’ know?”
People are hungry for a real God, it seems. Look and you’ll find people with hurts who want to get over their jadedness and find someone who listens to their prayers. Many, many people are seeking a God who answers. A God who is present, and makes house calls. Thankfully, the Jesus I know is available and always listens. My words wait until the haircut is almost complete, awaiting the required hand-mirror back of the head glance and request for approval. I turn to look her in the eye. No mirror is between us now. “Of course I will pray for you,” I say. “How could I not, after you have let me so wonderfully into your world? Thanks for honoring me with your story. I care.”
I am a spiritual man, and so I don’t ask for permission to be spiritual. I simply begin a short prayer right there in the spinning chair. No, “Let us pray,” or “Please bow your heads.” I just begin. “Lord Jesus, bless Renee from heaven. Bless her wonderfully, and bless her deeply. This world is crazy, and we’re all doing our best to hang on. I pray for Renee’s mom and daughter and ex-husband and yes, for Renee specifically. I ask for a day filled with good things, and a week full of answers. Help her see that there is a God who hears our prayers and cares about our lives. In your name, Jesus, amen.”
As the cape comes off and the wisps of gray strands settle to the floor, I rise. The room is oddly quiet, and people are looking at me. I smile. I know these moments. God is here. I slide to the counter and pull cash from my wallet.
Another hairdresser breaks the silence, “I get him next time he comes in. My life is a mess, and I really need prayer.” “Me, too,” echoes from another voice. Heads nod around the room.
A gentle laugh eases the tension, and a customer adds, “Perhaps, Pastor, we should form a line.”
What do I do? I guess I am a listener. One who prays. And someone who knows that the living Jesus always hears our prayers. Always.