Sitting down with Tax Collectors –

By: Judith Hargett

The air was so thick with tension it seemed to require extra energy to walk through the room. Already feeling overexerted I had to make a quick sidestep to keep from getting run over by an irate man as he stormed past me and out the door. (To my way of thinking these maneuvers constituted a workout and I planned to mark it down as such on my calendar as husband is always urging me to exercise more.) I had entered the local IRS office to pick up some forms. It should have been marked off with yellow warning tape: “Area Contaminated with Verbal Toxins.”

A small group of people were waiting impatiently for their turn to speak to an agent. One miserable looking employee sat behind the counter trying to diffuse the situation. I came in as the irate man was demanding phone numbers and names so he could file a complaint, threatening as he passed me that “they were going to get more than a phone call from him.” Now I understood why they usually had a security guard on the premises; but this day he was nowhere in sight. The remaining customers were grilling the IRS employee about a break she was about to begin. She said her supervisor was requiring her to take a mandated fifteen minute break. It was in the regulations. She apologized, looking totally miserable. I wanted to hug her or offer a word of encouragement but figured that would be against some rule. I could almost imagine the headlines: “Local Woman Arrested Trying to Encourage Government Employee without Filling out Proper Form” (see rule number 3,000,001 in IRS statutes). With one final apology the employee pulled down the metal screen leaving the grumbling citizenry to fume for another fifteen minutes and probably began the most stressful break of her life knowing that those who remained would be even angrier when she lifted that screen to resume her work. I quickly backed out of the office (more exercise) before my sympathies for the employee could be detected.

According to Proverbs 19:11: “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense“(NIV). Were these people impatient because they were not wise? Believers know that patience is a fruit of the spirit. As Paul told the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV, emphasis added). Before I could fall off my high horse and break my judgmental neck, I had an epiphany. The Lord used this opportunity to reveal my own ugliness. Had I not sounded and acted the very same way as these people at times when the arrogance of my self-importance overrode the warnings from The Holy Spirit? If it looked and sounded that ugly to me, how must it sound to God? I’m so thankful He gives us the opportunity to confess such sins and restore our fellowship with Him (see I John 1:9); but our public displays of rudeness and impatience are damaging to our witness.

Now back to the IRS. Some of you even now may be working on your tax returns. Either you’re trying to figure out the multiplicity of forms and rules yourself or you’re paying someone to do it for you. Intentional or not, it’s a system that tries the patience of the most sanctified among us. Now. Imagine dealing with a steady stream of people who are very agitated over this process. There aren’t enough breaks available to relieve such stress. Additionally, these IRS employees have to follow the same rules we do…at least at the local office level…and I’m pretty sure they don’t get an employee discount. I’m not suggesting you have to go out to dinner with tax collectors, though I can certainly think of someone who would, and did; but you might need to work on being more patient with them. Try getting help in a big city tax office. Even Job would have trouble with that one.

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