As a couple who try our best to live and make everyday decisions according to a personal life rule to live simply and tread lightly upon the earth, my wife and I don’t often do a lot of shopping for things that aren’t necessities. When we do shop however, we prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle of big box stores and shopping malls, in favour of small mom and pop shops where we have the opportunity to linger a while, and get to know and chat with the proprietor and staff if possible. Once and a while though, there’s just nothing for it, and for the sake of frugality (also part of our personal life rule), a trip to a larger store is necessary.
So while I was out this morning doing some shopping at a busy, popular furniture store (which shall remain unnamed), I needed to arrange for a few things to be delivered as they just wouldn’t fit in our little Echo compact. As is often my habit when I am out and about or forced to wait in line ups that seem to take forever, I simply began to look around at the beehive of activity and take notice of the kaleidoscope of people around me; their activities, the expressions on their faces, their countenance and their body language. I started to relax, follow my breathing, and allow a little smile to come to my face; using the wait as an opportunity to be mindful and to invite God to both calm my mind and my body (I tend to get nervous, impatient and edgy when in the midst of crowds and line-ups) and to perhaps in some small way, allow me to be an instrument of peace in the chaotic madness of a “Mad Wednesday” shopping sale.
One fellow that caught my eye right away, was the solitary employee at the customer service desk; “Joe” it said on his name tag. Joe was doing his best to keep up with the demands of the feeding frenzy that can often occur when people want service and want it now! He was flitting back and forth between a steady stream of order requests. I was astounded at how efficiently and quickly Joe moved, and marvelled that he didn’t have a partner or assistant to help him. With just a glint of recognition that God was directing me (I’m often quite dull in these things), my heart stirred as I watched Joe work his administrative magic. I noticed the mask of patience begin to slip as he was torn into by a middle-aged woman who felt that Joe wasn’t giving her the kind of service she was expecting. I felt the sting of undeserved criticism as others moved to the customer service desk and treated Joe with indifference, scorn and disparagement.
When I finally made it to the front of the lineup and approached the customer service desk, Joe was obviously doing his best to keep his composure and hide the frustration and exasperation he was feeling inside. I didn’t say much at first, but simply smiled kindly, filling out my paperwork while Joe put out yet, another administrative fire. When he returned, I looked up from my paperwork, smiled again and commented, “You’re having quite the day so far aren’t you?” Joe paused for just a moment and then his countenance changed; the mask of frustration melted away for the next few minutes as we conversed lightly about his job and the challenges of dealing with people on “sale days.” Relief washed over Joe’s face and his body language softened and relaxed a little as I moved slowly, listened intently and talked as little as possible, allowing Joe to hold much of the conversation; throwing in the odd comment here or there.
It wasn’t long until Joe had wrapped up my paperwork and I was on my way. But before I let that moment go for good, stepping
away from the service desk, I smiled warmly once again and said, “Thanks for your help. Hope your day gets better!” Joe’s eyes twinkled a little and a hint of smile came to his lips as he nodded and moved on to the next customer, an older gentleman whom I’d had a chance to chit-chat with while waiting in line.
On our way back home, I reflected on that moment and how God had given me the grace to be graceful and how that grace had perhaps, just for a few paltry seconds, lifted life’s burdens from the back of a man named Joe, allowing him to be free. I wish I could say that I have ascended to the status of spiritual superhero, but I haven’t. Not even close! There are times when I’m angry and frustrated as well and fail to treat people with the love, kindness, dignity and respect that God treats us with unfailingly all the time. But, there are a lot of Joe’s out there; people that we meet on a daily basis at the office, on the streets, in traffic, at the store or even online, who are living under enormous burdens and who, unwittingly, long for someone to show them that they are loved, valued, accepted and appreciated - not just for the work they do, but for who they are. I can’t solve people’s problems, God knows full well that I’m not even able to solve my own, but in little ways, perhaps I can learn to be an instrument of peace.
In the light of common grace - a simple smile, a listening ear, a kind word, a mindful “please”, “thank you” or “you’re welcome” (even in a text message or email) or a little wave to the driver who let you squeeze in while caught in chock-a-block traffic - God is glorified. Yes, God is glorified anytime we “offer a cup of water to a thirsty soul.” In these little “God acts”, we learn to live according to the subtle impulses of our divine nature as sons and daughters of God, acknowledge and elevate the dignity of those we meet in our daily travels and at the very least, make our world a far better place in which to live.
[Written by: Robert "Mac" MacKenzie on his blog Diary of an Arts Farmer
. Mac is an artist, writer, musician and poet and lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.]