We stumbled into the hotel lobby a little after 10PM, blinking wearily as our eyes adjusted to the light. Business travelers, we had been stranded when tornado warnings closed the airport. Hungry and shaken after more than three hours of standing in line for new tickets, but grateful to be safe, we gathered in the hotel’s only restaurant.
Somehow the conversation turned to the amount of time we’ve been spending on the road lately. Soothed by hot food, for many of us the first in more than six hours, we made a silly Foxworthy-style list:
ARE YOU A TOO-FREQUENT FLIER? YOU JUST MIGHT BE -- IF …
The airport's TSA screener glances at your driver’s license and says “Oh, hi -- long time no see!”
You reach the airport and find yourself thinking: “Say, it’s the 15th of the month – isn’t that burrito day on Concourse D?”
You call home, and your teenage son says “Dad. Dad. Hmm … The name is familiar, but … I can’t quite place the face. Nope. Don’t remember you.”
You call your hotel for shuttle pickup, and before you can say your name, the desk clerk recognizes your voice and shouts “GIRLfriend! What’s goin’ ON!”
I’ve found that it’s easier to stay centered when I’m at home. With my husband, the familiar voices of my children, the easy sensation of sliding into cool, smooth sheets that will never rival hotel quality, but that cover my own bed -- it’s easier to remember who I am.
And away from home? Conference guests -- surrounded by tables heavy-laden with food, wine, damask napkins, and breakables that no mother could ever safely place at waist level -- converse but rarely listen. Small talk prevails. Making a good impression is paramount. Displaying one’s skills is the order of the day. It all seems a little unreal. And, sometimes … a little lonely, too.
In one of a series of powerfully written biographies, evangelist Charles Swindoll suggests that we should learn to travel as the Apostle Paul did. He offers several suggestions: Stay connected and accountable to those at home. Avoid superficiality; concentrate on what is important. Don’t believe everything people tell you, either positive or negative; instead, focus on the Lord.
When I read Swindoll’s advice recently, I realized that I had, unknowingly, been following it for years. Carrying a computer and printouts, I usually travel light and cannot pack books. So, I’m a little embarrassed to confess, when I enter a hotel room, the first thing I check is not the soap, the towels, or the sheets – it’s whether the Bible is in the desk drawer. Somehow, knowing that the Scriptures are nearby makes me feel safer, more anchored. They are the same there, at home – anywhere. Each trip, I try to write at least a few lines in my prayer journal, to share later with my husband. And sitting in my hotel room in the early morning, I pray for colleagues, even (especially!) the difficult ones.
Centering in this way while on the road affects seemingly casual relationships in powerful ways. At a recent conference, greeting a client that I had not seen in several months, I remembered that his only son had just been deployed to Iraq. I suppose that typical business protocol dictated a polite inquiry about commerce, or perhaps the superficial “How are you” that we sometimes ask without wanting a real answer. My reaction was more impulsive: I grasped his hand and squeezed it. “Tell me, how is Robert*?” I asked. The smile that lit his face revealed how much this question had meant to him. “You remembered his name,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
And I am ministered unto, just as often as I minister to others. At the end of a recent difficult business trip, I stopped to say goodbye to a hotel maid. When she learned that I was heading to the airport, she spontaneously threw her arms around me. “May God’s traveling mercies be upon you today!” she exclaimed. I will never understand why she did it. But I will always remember how her kindness made me feel.
Does any of this make me a saint at work (or anywhere else)? Far from it. But, for me, the lesson is both simple and critically important: When I am in a hotel, where it is hard to remember who I am, it helps to remember Whose I am.
* Fictitious name.
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