LESSONS IN PRAYER, LEARNED AT THE SWITCHBOARD

by David Sisler

"Thank you for calling your Heavenly Father's House. The Mediator is busy now helping another supplicant. To better serve you, please select one of the following five options: press 1 for requests; press 2 for thanksgiving, press 3 for complaints. If you would like King David to sing a psalm for you, press 4. For all other inquiries, press 5. Please stay on the line. Your prayer will be answered in the ordered it was received."

Last week, I spent a large portion of my day off making telephone calls. It was either an incredible streak of bad luck or else I stumbled onto a remarkable quartet of guardians of the corporate inner sanctum. If Jerome Bettis had blockers like those switchboard operators running interference for him, we Pittsburgh Steeler fans wouldn't care who Coach Bill Cowher put under center.

Call number one went to an environmental firm in Atlanta. I started there because I had the number to the CEO. Nothing like success to bolster one's spirits for the rest of the day, I thought. So I punched in the numbers.

Brief digression: Do you remember when we actually dialed the numbers? I remember dialing the operator and saying, "Miss Cathy, I'd like to speak to my Grandma." A preacher I know tells of needing a ride to a large nearby city in the days immediately following World War II. He asked a few friends and the answer from each was, "Ask Sarah." Finally, he asked Sarah, the local switchboard operator. She said, "I don't know anyone who is heading in that direction, but I'll keep listening." Within two hours he had his ride.

But back to the environmental agency. That coveted number put me right into the answering machine. I introduced myself, told the CEO how I came to be in possession of his phone number the second greatest prize since the key to the executive washroom and started my pitch. Barely had my well-rehearsed spiel began when the frazzlin' machine beeped, warning me I had 30 seconds remaining. I did the verbal equivalent of the 100 yard dash and hung up before I was cut off.

Call number two was answered by a human being who directed my call to yet another answering machine. A mechanical voice gave me pushing options, but I immediately opted for self-defense and pushed "zero." The voice said, "That number is not an option." I hung up, and dialed back before I forgot why I was calling.

Call number three was answered by a pleasant sounding lady who told me the callee was out in the plant, but she would be glad to take a message. I asked if I could just speak to his voice mail, but she assured me she could take the message. About 20 seconds into the pitch she broke in and said, "Let me put you on his voice mail." Sometimes, you just know.

Call number four was to an agency I had actually called on three previous occasions. The first time I called the director was on another line. I should have known I was in trouble immediately because the operator asked, "And whom shall I say is calling?" Look, I thought, she is either in or she is not. What difference does it make who is calling? Naivete, thy name is David.

The second time I called, she was working at home, but my message would be given to her. "It will be no bother at all," I was assured, and she did not bother to call back. The third time, almost a week later, she was in a meeting. The fourth time, several hours after the third attempt, she was (surprise!) in a meeting.

I know that important people get more phone calls than they can possibly handle, but don't lie to me. On the fourth call I was told, "She has tried all day to return your call." Well, that soaked my Wheaties. "Lady," I said (Lady is irritated, Ma'am is polite), "she didn't try very hard because there were only three messages on my answering machine, two from my ministry partner, and one hang-up. Give me 90 seconds and I can present my case." Caught with her lie hanging out, she mumbled, "I will tell her." When pigs fly.

If you want to talk to someone who is always in, has no answering machine, no one running interference, no one telling whoppers to keep you dangling, someone who already knows who is "calling," and if you really do not enjoy being rude, try talking to God. If you will be quiet long enough, you will hear him whisper back.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/13/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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