I left the restaurant manager in tears…and saved a dollar.

caged heart
A caged heart leads to a life without meaning or purpose. But an uncaged heart…
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Image credit: drkangelcat

Neither of these was my intention. They were both unexpected results.

I was in a particularly bad mood when I arrived at the restaurant. It was late. I was hungry. I knew what I wanted and I wanted it now.

I stood with my arms crossed and an obvious look of annoyance on my face. I was the only person in line and yet I was asked to wait.

Shift gears with me. This story isn’t going where you probably thought it was.

I was asked to wait because the person in front of me hadn’t paid yet. She was an employee there.

I looked over as they called to her, themselves annoyed somewhat at having to make me wait for her. She was holding a newborn in one arm and her tray in the other. She was in uniform and my best guess is that she immigrated here within the past five years, not having been born into the privileges which I take for granted every day.

In an instant, I no longer saw the source of my inconvenience. I saw a fellow human being. My hunger subsided. My impatience vanished at the sight of the baby and her struggling mother.

I asked the manager, who was serving as a cashier while training a new hire, to add her meal to my order. I hope that as long as I have breath on earth, that I never forget the look on her face when I said this.

Perhaps it is a literary fantasy to think that the look on her face showed me that I had somehow restored her faith in humanity. Perhaps that is an extreme reach and perhaps my own hubris makes me want to think that. But that is how it looked to me in that moment.

Shock. Followed by tears. Followed by a smile that said, “The world isn’t such a bad place after all.”

“That,” she struggled to say. “That…that is so…” Tears and a runny nose interrupted her words. “Nice,” she finished.

I ordered my meal. The normal cost is $8-something with tax. But the screen only said $7.13. I still have the 87 cents sitting on my desk.

I asked her if she remembered to add her order…and my drink. She had. She had given me the employee’s discount. I had saved a dollar.

Perhaps my “reward” ruins the story. Perhaps the fact that I saved a dollar makes me more likely to do a similar thing in the future, for the wrong reasons.


I hope not.

But this story isn’t about me. This story is about the humanity that all of us possess. This story is about the heart that beats in every one of us when we allow it to be uncaged.

Life with a caged heart is limited to our self-centered, narrow world. It leads to a life without meaning or purpose. It’s like a straight-jacket on our feelings and passion.

An uncaged heart has no limits.

This world needs leaders with uncaged hearts.

Children need fathers with uncaged hearts.

Students need teachers with uncaged hearts.

You need someone to uncage their heart. Your boss, your spouse, your father, your best friend.

Maybe it’s you that needs to let your heart be uncaged.

Maybe it’s me.

How have you caged your heart? What has that stopped you from doing?

12 thoughts on “The Caged Heart

  1. Todd Liles says:

    I gave up my seat on an airplane to a lady that needed to get home to her dying mother. That was cool. I got to give her a hug and wish her a safe trip.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I have a feeling that the next X hours in the airport didn’t seem so bad after that did they? Awesome Todd!

  2. Dan Erickson says:

    Nice post, and I love the image of an “uncaged heart.” It might make a great song title. Hmmm?

  3. MrTravisScott says:

    Great story and it made me think it has been a long time since I have done something similar. The last time I really remember doing something like that was when I was working @ the bank. A customer pulled into the bank parking lot and ran out of gas. She had a negative balance in her account. So I helped push her car to the gas station across the street and put $10 in her tank.

    It felt great, but it has been a long time. New mission: I think it is time I keep my opens to do something like that again. Thanks for helping me reflect

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      All I can say is “do it!” Travis. My hope is that posts like this cause ideas to move from the back of people’s minds to the front and that their eyes are a little more open for opportunities to bless people…and bless themselves in the process.

  4. Jon Stolpe says:

    The questions leave me more vulnerable than I’m ready to confess here – I’ll shoot you an e-mail.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Honest answer. And I understand. You’re not the first.

  5. Tom Dixon says:

    The funny thing is these opportunities are all over the place…and a lot of the time I don’t take them. Why? FEAR… will I offend the other person? What if I make fool of myself? What if I’m rejected. I’d rather take the risk…but too often I don’t.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’d say that is very accurate. Fear of looking like an idiot or coming across as “after something.”

  6. I admit I have a caged heart. I put it there. I bundled it up, placed it inside and turned the key. No one is going to stomp on my heart again. Oh – I still do “nice” things, think good thoughts, laugh, enjoy and even love – in careful measure. I certainly don’t “put it out there”. I know I lack passion – but I also know I lack the ability to handle more hurt. Perhaps it is self-centered – hadn’t thought of it in those terms. Then again, hurting people hurt people – and I never, never want to hurt others in any measure. I think my cage is not to keep my heart in, but to keep the hurt out. Thought provoking post. Thanks.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thought provoking comment, Lulu.

      Especially this: I think my cage is not to keep my heart in, but to keep the hurt out.

      I’d have to agree that the most open people are also the most vulnerable. Every day I write, there is the thought in the back of mind that something could be used against me or someone might disagree with it. And I often fall victim to what Jon Acuff calls “Critics Math.” >>> 1 insult + 1000 compliments = 1 insult

      Ultimately it’s FEAR as @thomas_dixon:disqus points out. And we only overcome with the first action. The first opening acts like drilling into ice. It weakens all the ice around it (in a good way in this case). And it makes it easier to open up the next time.

      I do believe what the Bible says about this (paraphrasing here). Every time you reject God, your heart is hardened a bit and the next time is easier to reject Him. Every time you say “YES!” to Him, your heart is softened and the next time is easier to say “YES!”

      1. Oh – I wish to make clear that I have let God into my life – I am not rejecting Him. I trust Him – knowing He wants my best (although we have had moments :-)) – it is the “arm of flesh” that fails me. Others. Fear is a component for sure – the fear of being hurt – again. Great discussion.

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