grace at the tim horton's drive-through

photo from davidblaikie.ca
I am a commuter. I have habits. One of them is my pit-stop at the Tim Horton's drive-through window fifteen minutes into my drive. I pull off the #99 freeway, cross the #10 highway and get into line. There are often six or seven or eight cars ahead of me. On first glance it can look like a long wait is in store. But not here. The tiny Tim Horton's outlet in the back of the Esso gas station is filled by a highly choreographed team whose dance of service is remarkable. The line up moves swiftly. I am soon placing my order, speaking into the microphone: "One small coffee, black, in my own mug and a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted dry". Now I need to be prepared, with my cup in hand and my money ready. Pulling up to the window a hand is already reaching out for my cup. Another employee has guessed what change will be needed and hands it to me as I pay. Before I can get the change put away my toasted bagel is ready, and then my coffee, and then - in what seems no time - I am back on the road. When we say that the church is a community that is learning to perform the gospel I sometimes think that it can learn something from the dance of service every morning at this Tim Horton's. But that is not what occasioned this post.

Sometime last year I was the recipient of a random act of kindness at Tim Horton's. I pulled in as usual, made my regular order and prepared to pay. But at the window I learned that I owed nothing. The driver ahead of me had paid my bill. Really? But who was it? How will I say thank you? Things happened fast. My bagel and coffee were in my hands and I was on the road before I wished that I had paid the bill of the next driver. It was such a simple, anonymous gesture. One commuter to another. One stranger to another. Except we were, somehow, no longer strangers. It was such an unusual act in a culture that rarely builds community among strangers through anonymous generosity. Yet it has happened to me twice more since then. Now I am among those who pay it forward in the Tim Horton's line up. I feel as if I am part of a silent, subversive movement. I often now pull away from the window lifted, grateful to be a recipient and a giver in this hidden economy of grace. It causes me to wonder about the shape of such little hidden economies of grace from here to London, New York, Santiago or, well, you name it. If such a sub-culture can be cultivated at the Tim Horton's on the #10 highway during rush hour then counter-cultures like it must take shape all over the place. I wonder how often they begin with one person. I imagine that the answer is all the time.

It reminds me of the way in which the gospel is shared. One person freely passing on the Word that has been passed to them, the Word that God in Jesus is in the saving, redeeming, healing business. There you are, traveling through your days, paying your bills, earning your keep, trying to be the kind of person that God would be proud of, that you would be proud of, but somehow it is never enough. Somehow anxieties about letting others down, letting yourself down, letting God down silently work their way into your soul and set up shop, turning into an aching cancer of despair, shame, worry. But one day someone's voice, someone's care gets through to you that it has already been paid, that you are beloved, that you can live out of this gift of love, not live trying to earn it. Then that lovely, surprising messenger of God's grace is gone, moved on, out of touch. But she has left behind another messenger. For now you, too, are a participant in the economy of grace called the church of Jesus Christ. Now you too, are a messenger, a missionary, a good news story teller and, in your humble way, a revolutionary.


  1. What an assuring grace story of my cup overflows!

    "The saints espouse my cause by prayer,
    The angels make my soul their care.
    Mine is the promise sealed with blood!
    And Jesus lives to make it good.”-J.Newton/W.Couper


  2. "Performing the gospel"! What a lovely concept and a moving story! Thanks.