I made the dreadful mistake of doing my grocery shopping on a Friday afternoon at the end of the month only a day before a predicted ice storm in the South. Dumb? Yes. Surprisingly life-giving? Also, yes.
As an introvert, I find any store exhausting. And yesterday was an all-out war not to just leave my full cart in the middle of the store and come back another day. I was rushing about and ran by the deli counter to have some meat sliced for an upcoming gathering. The poor woman behind the counter had to be at least 70 and shuffled agonizingly slow between the counter and the meat slicer, painstakingly completing my order. I am never bothered by this sort of thing. A slow moment in the middle of a lot of busy moments allows me time to breathe. So I idly stared at the mountains of cheeses and meats behind the glass case and thought about nothing. It was lovely.
When that dear woman placed the last of my bags on the counter, she leaned over and quietly apologized for taking so long in getting the task done. I smiled and told her not to worry. Then she leaned over further and told me she had been fighting a sour stomach all day and wasn’t moving so well as a result.
I met God right then. In the middle of all of that noise and movement, I blinked back my tears, reached my hand across the glass case and took her hand and apologized to her for the fact that she had to work so hard and smell all that food all while sick to her stomach. Feeling her unsteady and wrinkled gloved hand hold mine broke my heart. She rewarded me with a smile. I choked back tears all through the rest of my shopping.
I told my mum about it later and said that the tenderness I am becoming is both a blessing and a curse. In her usual mum way, she asked, “Wouldn’t you rather be tender?” Well, yes. Yes, of course. I lived the alternative and it was hell. And it was hell to know me then. I’ll never go back…the Lord has promised me that. It’s just that the tenderness makes going to the grocery store harder and harder. I find myself doing crazy things with strangers these days. I have these conversations that do not leave me, conversations with people I will never see again, conversations that leave my heart scarred with the wonder and sorrow simultaneously. A lot of broken and hurting people walk past you in a grocery store aisle. I cry a lot when I get in my car afterward. It has become a minefield and my heart gets blown up every time.
And with every explosion, I meet God. I see Him in their eyes, in their bad teeth, in their worn out shoes, in their cars that barely run, in their wrinkles, in their stories. He waits for me behind the apple display, in the freezer section, over the blocks of cheese and the rows of celery, and even in the parking lot on a few occasions.
He tells me in Matthew 25:35-40, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
I believe this. I believe we show our love for the Lord in how we treat others. Man, that’s hard. I would make a really good Pharisee – all talk and show and Bible verses and hardly any effort. It would be so easy.
But all I can muster up is being a sorry sinner who loves and fails and loves and fails and loves and fails. The gratefulness and happy beautiful mess that is loving people who would be easier to ignore feels like worship somehow. And I keep meeting God at the grocery store. Amen.