The petrol station: no matter who you are, most people will find themselves in one at some point in their month. Even if you don't own a car, the humble service area is the place where you can grab a drink, a quick feed and the small conveniences you need; then continue with your day.
Starting just at the cusp of Covid lockdowns I found myself being one of the constant faces in the lives of a few people as they had brief reprieve from home to get what they needed. Because for the past year and half, for a few days a week, that's where I've been working.
I had originally intended for it to be a stop gap to pay the bills while I searched to restart a media career that seemingly died before it could even get off the ground.
There were some hopeless times in the opening months - rejections from job applications mounting up combined with announcements of journalists losing jobs. What was the hope of me getting in if those guys were losing their jobs?
And still the graveyard shifts rolled on, with mostly 5am finishes. I'd show up and greet the night-dwellers of our world.
But slowly, things began to change. In the midst of a game-changing global pandemic I was working when not even all my family and friends could say the same. And so, seeds of gratefulness started taking root.
Even more so, though, it was the people I met and spoke to that widened my perspective. The tradie that came in at 10pm every night to buy fishing bait to relax and get away from it all; the wife fuelling up to pick up her husband from hotel quarantine at the stroke of midnight; homeless people; the 3am coffee drinkers; and eventually the revellers from the pub next door.
What I originally saw as my career prison became the place where God showed me how to get over my own pride and learn to live.
Everyone's got a story
The first hurdle was when I saw my old school friends, teachers and university lecturers come in. I'd mumble through how this was only a small thing until "I get back to using my degree" and list off the small projects I was freelancing at the time. In other words, this isn't where I was supposed to be.
But what changed me was my workmates, because this wasn't a stop-gap for them. They were parents, empty nesters, young adults, migrants doing what they needed to support their families and lives. And what I discovered is that their work wasn't what made them, but what allowed them to live their lives.
The roadmap I had for my life was school, university, work; then progress from there. When that roadmap was disrupted, the deviation somehow meant failure in my mind. But in a time where jobs were hard enough to come by, along with the stories of the people that came into the store, that vision was too small.
I didn't notice at the time but as I was looking down on the job I was working, and I was simultaneously doing the same with the people I worked with.
We can so easily be caught up in longing for more that we miss what God is doing in us at the time.
In the beginning of James' letter to the church of Jerusalem, he informs them to have joy 'when' they face trials, not 'if'. Because when they do face trials, their faith is being built and Christ is being formed in them at the same time.
Working in a petrol station was a time I thought I'd always hate. It turned out to be the place where Christ taught me to love others more. Whether it's the butcher at 2am or the homeless man looking for a sausage roll, everyone's got a story. The question is: are we willing to listen?
© Press Service International