Friday, September 23, 2016

Count It All Joy In A Wal-Mart


The mornings are a hectic time of getting everyone up and ready and off to school and work. It can be frustrating, irritating and exhausting. The word I would seldom use for this hurried part of our day is joy. No, nor would I use that term to describe the commute to work. Maybe it would apply when I taste that first cup of coffee (for which I have a sense of deep gratitude for those beloved beans that are far more magical than Jack's that grew a beanstalk).

Yet joy is not an external reaction but an internal attitude of being. It is not predicated on what is happening in your life but what is transforming your soul. Joy in Greek is chara which means delight, and gladness. It is connected to the Greek word xara (a word that is translated to mean extend favor, lean towards, be favorably disposed) and xairo (meaning rejoice because of grace). This may be what lies at the heart of James 1:2-3, "Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind . . ." Joy is not connected to our circumstances but to our communion in Christ.

Going about my day, how often do I forget this? Do I fail to grasp the Divine Mystery that created me and all things and keeps everything that exists together? To realize that miracles aren't always burning bushes, parting seas, walking on water, or encountering an angel? Miracles can be the hug of my child or his laugh. A dog trustingly asleep in my lap. Watching the reflection of sky and trees in the still waters. Or waiting in line at Wal-Mart.  Most, including myself many times, would not consider that either a miracle or a source of joy.

Today, as I was about to get in line to check out, an older woman accidentally cut in front of me. It was obvious that she was caught up in her own thoughts and did not notice me, but when she did, she apologized and told me to go ahead. I smiled, told her it was no problem, I wasn't in a hurry and for her to go ahead. She thanked me before putting her items on the conveyor belt.

As the cashier began to ring up the woman's items, the older woman began to talk and it was clear that she needed somebody to listen. The young cashier was too busy scanning each item, so I did. Through the course of our short conversation, the older woman (dressed in a sweater and had American flag earrings) began to tell me how she was exhausted from having all of her family at her house. "I can imagine," I replied and she then revealed that they were there because her twin sister had just died. I could see her eyes behind her glasses were welling up, "I'm having a really hard time with it," she admitted. After offering her my sympathy and telling her how my wife's aunt, who was a twin, died recently, I asked, "What's your name?" She seemed a bit taken aback, so I explained, "I would like to pray for you."

"Really?"

I nodded and she told me who she was. Right there, in the checkout line of Wal-Mart, I began to pray for her. I prayed for her to have peace and comfort during this time of sorrow and loss. As I'm praying, I can hear her crying. When I finished, she hugged me and said, "Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed that." She smiled and wiped her eyes with a Kleenex from her purse. She thanked me again before paying and then walking off to head home.

Looking at the young cashier, I could tell that she was shocked by what just happened at her register. Still, as she rang up my items, I struck up a conversation with her. She told me how she would be working this weekend but that it was okay because she'd just had four days off of vacation. She and her husband went to the beach for part of it and it rained, "But it was just nice to see the ocean and not be here." Then she picked up my 30 pack of CapriSun juice boxes. "That's a lot of juice," she commented. I explained that it was our week to buy drinks and snacks for my son's soccer team. "I hope that when my son is old he enough he can play soccer," she said and then explained how her son was born with special needs. "The doctors told me to have an abortion. They said that when my son would be born, he would suffer a few hours before dying. I told them, 'If that happened, it would be God and not her who decided whether or not he lived." She proudly beamed as she added, "He just turned three."

"That's a wonderful miracle," I smiled. "Can I pray for him, too?"

What was I saying? This is not my modus operandi. Being a shy introvert, I don't just immediately start asking strangers in a Wal-Mart if I could pray for them, but here I was doing it again in just a matter of minutes from doing the same. She stopped ringing up my items and said, "Would you please?"

Once she told me her son's name, I closed my eyes,bowed my head and prayed. I thanked God for the miracle this little boy already was. I prayed for him to continue to grow in strength and health. I prayed for her and her husband. It was a short prayer but when I looked up, this young woman had tears streaming down her cheeks. "Thank you," she smiled and wiped her cheeks with her hand before scanning my carton of eggs.

I could only imagine what the woman in line behind me thought and I desperately wanted to put on my best Pentecostal preacher's voice and declare, "We're gonna' have chuurrrch up in here today!" but I refrained.

Once I paid and started to leave, the cashier repeated her thanks and wished me a great weekend. As I pushed my cart away, I could not help but feel that such simple acts of grace could help to heal this broken world. It was both amazing and humbling that God had orchestrated all that.

It was only as I was driving home that I thought about how, if I'd gotten indignant or upset with that older woman for cutting me off in line or if I had let her go ahead but then pulled out my cell phone, none of that would have ever happened. Or the fact that the Holy Spirit spoke up through me and I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to ask her, "Can I pray for you?" and not in an abstract way of "I'll pray for you later" but literally praying for her right then and there. In those moments I was connected to people who had, prior to that, been complete strangers to me. Now I know their names and something about each of them.

Being open and present, I allowed myself to experience true joy. The joy of being there in the hurting of another human being who so desperately needed someone, anyone, to just hear how her heart hurt for the sister she lost. Or the young woman who loved her child enough to give him life. God being tender enough to care about both of them so much that he would use a vessel such as me to show them in that moment is overwhelming. It wasn't me. That wasn't my nature or my instincts. Nor did it carry over to the car ride home, where I found myself irritated with other drivers.

I cannot help but wonder how different the world would be if I, and others, allowed ourselves to reach out to another human being like that on a daily basis.

In this I pray, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" according to Romans 15:13.

Why?

Because when we are indeed filled with hope and joy and peace, we want to share that with others. We want to offer them the same gifts that God has granted us. This joy leads to compassion rooted in helping, loving and revealing the mercy of God to others.

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