Spiritual Lessons From the Grocery Store

It was early in the morning, Memorial Day, and I had no milk for my coffee. I avoid grocery shopping as long as I can, but this is one of the things that sends me to the store immediately. Since I was there, I picked up a few other things we needed to keep me out of there for a few more days. There were about seven lanes open for quick checkout, and there was one for regular (why they do this, I do not know). So I got in the back of the long regular line, having much more than the 15 item limit in the quick lane. The manager told me to slide back to the empty quick lane behind me since my line was long and there were several quick lanes open. I happily complied. I had unloaded most of my basket when a man with one cake walked up behind me in the line. I could feel the bitter, poisonous breath billowing off of him. I tried to move quicker, and he continued to look at me like I was the stupidest creature on the planet (I get the feeling that he has a personal pet-peeve about the lane thing). I don’t think this was all in my imagination–he breathed, looked, and stood in a menacing way, disturbing my peace. I, being grumpy, imperfect, and embarrassingly approval-seeking, returned his mean look and said to him in a contemptuous way usually reserved for fighting with my husband “The manager told me to get in this lane, so….” As I tried to accommodate him and get out of there, I bumped my head trying to load my bagged groceries onto my cart. I still have the bruise to remind me of this unfortunate incident.

But why was I so angry?
Why did I rush to appease him?
Why did I explain myself to him?

Because I am still not a free person–I needed him to think well of me, so I tried to help him see that I am not stupid and inconsiderate by hurrying and explaining the situation. I gave him power to upset me. I was not aware of the reasons I felt the way I did at the time and chose an unfortunate way to react to his anger.

Of course, I don’t know him, and probably will never see him again. I do not need his approval, and I should not have worried about his problem with me. I didn’t have to choose to suffer for his anger. I could have let him keep it all for himself, or maybe even shined a light of love to improve the situation. Choices. Chances to grow.

I had a very thoughtful yoga teacher once who talked about “Expanding Paradigms.” He explained it something like this: It is just as easy to assume the best as it is to assume the worst. Why not choose the former and live happier and spread more positivity?

There is a slow and drifting driver blocking your way on the road and you have been stuck for a thousand years behind them. You could assume that they are: a fool oblivious to the limited lifespan of the poor souls subjected to the misfortune of being behind them, drunk, daydreaming, going slow just to ruin your day because they are evil and this their idea of a good time, or nowadays probably texting. You could also assume that: they just got the car and are still figuring out how to drive it, are teenagers who need more practice with driving, recently had a wreck and are still super cautious, they are unwell and feeling dizzy, maybe they are old and can’t see or hear well and speed makes them nervous, perhaps they are talking on the phone to someone who just told them their spouse died, or there was a car malfunction.

The point is, you probably won’t find out why they are driving like that, so the better course of action would be to assume the best and pray for them rather than be angry for the worst thing you can think of. An occasion of sin can be turned into an occasion to draw closer to God in prayer and become more like him.

The man in the checkout line, if he were practicing this paradigm shift could have assumed the best about me, and in this case, he would have been right. Instead, this beautiful holiday morning took a turn for the ugly. I also could have reacted differently, assuming that he was perhaps being ugly because: he had to meet someone in a hurry before they left for the next 20 years, he had a back injury that caused him great pain to stand for long periods of time, he perhaps had anger management issues stemming from unresolved childhood trauma. If I had it to do over again, I would first notice my unhealthy reaction and remind myself that it is okay if this stranger doesn’t approve of me. Then I would assume he had not learned how to deal with minor annoyances in life well and pray for both of us to grow, then realize that this very encounter was the lesson we both needed to achieve that very growth I was praying for.

We can choose how we want to interact with the world and view things that happen to us. C.S. Lewis wrote in
The Great Divorce, ‘…Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even…agony into a glory…The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven; the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

All our lives can be an early start to Heaven or Hell, depending on our response to God’s Grace in our lives. Lord, forgive and help me!

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