Growing up, my grandparents owned a jewelry store in my home town. Some of my favorite memories of summer were working for them in their store. I polished silver, I wrapped gifts, I shredded documents, and I helped with the jewelry displays. However, I never helped to sell any of the items in the store.
When I turned thirteen, my grandparents decided to retire and to sell the jewelry store. Their goal was to sell everything in the store as well as the property, and so they brought in a team of people who specialize in helping small businesses retire and host large-scale going out of business sales and events.
There were so many people coming into the store to buy up plates, silverware, jewelry, and crystal that for the period of the sale I got to work the front of the store. Watches, rings, necklaces, and earrings were in the front room, and I was very excited to work this area. For every item I sold, I gained a small commission – it became almost like a competition to me. I came to work every day dressed in a shirt and tie – I figured that, as a thirteen-year-old, adults might find that “cute” and would want to buy from me. I turned on the charm and began making sales. Life was good.
Until it wasn’t.
A woman walked in in a black dress. She was oozing grace and civility, and appeared to be very wealthy. She waved me to the watches as though I were a servant. I didn’t care – I wanted to make a sale! She walked from the watches down to the diamond earrings; this got me even more excited. The commission on anything with diamonds was much better than a watch. She pointed to piece after piece, and I got them out for her to try on. She selected a few things and moved back to the watches. I was so excited to show my grandparents how much I’d sold.
The woman pointed at five different watches and held out her wrist. One at a time, I clasped them on for her and she would shake her hand and hold up her wrist, examining the watches and, I suppose, how they looked on her. Because I had established a “buying” relationship with the woman already, I began to loosen up and ask her some questions. I looked down at her stomach. To me, she appeared to be pregnant. In fact, I thought that there was no way she wasn’t pregnant. The following dialogue took place:
Me: “So, when is the baby due?”
Woman: (Silence), then, “Excuse me?”
Me: “Oh, I was asking when your baby is due.”
Woman: “I’m not pregnant.”
Me: “So…are you still going to buy the watch?”
In the words of Tina Fey: “Blerg.”
She did not buy the watch. In fact, she didn’t buy anything. She left the store, and I was left standing at a display case with diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, a tennis bracelet, and five watches.
“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” So says Quohelet, the writer of Ecclesiastes. I will never forget the exchange. As a salesperson, there seem to be some things you shouldn’t say and shouldn’t ask when working with a potential buyer. Guessing about a woman’s pregnancy is one of those things. I’m sure there are others. If someone is married and you assume they have children. If someone is elderly and you assume they have grandchildren they like. If someone is an amputee and you lead ] off conversation by asking what happened. There are many more.
Do we ask uncomfortable questions of guests in the Church? How much information are our churches requiring of those who come through our doors? If we smother potential disciples to the point that they feel stressed or uncomfortable, then we risk them leaving without considering what the Church has in the front room: the love of God in Jesus Christ. Do we assume things about certain guests who come through the doors of the Church? Like the woman in the black dress, do we take appearances for granted that end up negatively impacting a potential relationship? These are certainly questions we need to consider.
We can’t stress out visitors or assume things about them and then, as an afterthought, ask “Are you still going to come back next Sunday?”