I glance in his direction. He’s clad in all-black, his shoulders are slumped, and his hands are stuffed deeply in his pockets.
“Yes?” I say.
“Do you have a quarter to spare?” He takes one of his hands out and opens it wide. I notice the deep groves in his palm. His hand looks like it belongs to an old man.
What I want to say is, “No. I don’t have a quarter to spare. I don’t have anything left to spare. I’m tired. I’ve just gotten over having a fever, my house has more bacterial and viral colonies than a Petri dish, and this grocery store visit is my first solo hurrah in a long, long time. So please just leave me alone, and go find some other housewife to nickel and dime.”
“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…”
And so I take a deep breath as I dig through my change purse. I don’t have a quarter, but I do manage to come up with two dimes and a nickel amidst a treasure trove of pennies. I drop the change into his open palm. He closes it quickly.
“Thanks,” he says, waving his furled fist at me.
When I’m in the baby section, two Hispanic men approach me. “Can you help us, please?” one of them says with a thick accent.
I want to say, “No, I can’t help you. I help little people for a living, and I’m tired of helping. I just want to grocery shop in peace and quiet.”
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”
And so I force a smile. “Sure. What do you need?”
He shows me what I thought was his grocery list. I see that it’s a WIC form listing the approved baby food items he has permission to purchase. His companion is clearly embarrassed and is staring at his feet. I think about how I don’t have to worry about feeding my family, and I swallow down a lump of guilt. It falls down inside of me with a heavy, aching thud and sits in my middle like a rock.
Stop being in such a rush, I admonish myself.
I try to assist him, but the form is rather cryptic even for someone whose first language is English.
“Thank you,” he says after I’ve handed him a box of authorized baby cereal.
Then my cell phone buzzes. I curse myself for bringing it with me, but then I remember that I now keep my grocery list on my iPhone. Blasted technology.
I don’t recognize the number, but it’s local. What if it’s an emergency (that’s really why you have a cell phone right?)? So I answer the call. It’s a friend. She needs a favor. It isn’t a big favor at all, and this is a friend who has done a lot for me. I owe her one. But I don’t want to say yes.
“I know you’re busy,” she says.
I am busy. Too busy to think. Too busy to sleep. Too busy to help a friend in need? Wait a minute.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
“It’s no problem at all,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
I hang up, and I wander over to the cereal aisle. I’m looking for plain, old Cheerios. Not Yogurt Burst Cheerios. Not Honey Nut Cheerios. Not Oat Cluster Crunch or something or the other Cheerios. Just good, old-fashioned Cheerios. The tyranny of too many choices is stressing me out.
When did life get so complicated?
It didn’t. Not really. I’m the one muddying things up. My thoughts, my tendency to over-analyze everything is like a knife because I waste time and energy cutting through so many things that really don’t matter. It’s simple, really. There’s only one right choice I need to make every day, every moment no matter the cost. It’s a choice that frees, not enslaves. I must choose to abandon myself to God, to give everything to Him – the big moments and the small moments in the produce aisle of the grocery store – so that whatever situation arises, I will do what He wants me to do even when I’m tempted to do otherwise.
With spiritual growth (and I’m obviously not there yet), I don’t think this even will come down to a choice. Loving God, doing His will, will become as natural as breathing (I’ve always been a wishful thinker).
How do I get to this peaceful place?
I have to empty myself and fill the void with Him.
This isn’t the same as punishing myself or neglecting my spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. It’s about emptying yourself of your way and embracing His way. It’s about ridding yourself of all that makes you weary and afraid. Abandon yourself to God. Take your burdens, your grief, your worries, your guilt, your annoyances as well as your joys, your wishes, your hopes, your love and your whole life, and bring them to Him. Submit your will to Him. Let God tell you what to do. This isn’t easy for me to do. Or anyone to do. We don’t like being told what to do. But I’m glad I listened to God in the grocery store instead of all those selfish, negative voices in my head. I’m grateful I said “yes” when I was tempted to say “no” because what I learned (for the umpteenth time) was this: Empty yourself and God will fill you up.
Copyright 2010 Kate Wicker