Wal-Mart can at times be (cue scary evil music) the bane of my existence. Trips to the Wally World are a given part of my reality, just as constant as laundry and dishes. I call it the necessary evil of my week and never once have I called it a “super” center. That’s called Barnes and Noble.
And yet I’ve often joked about the fact that I could write a book about all the things I’ve actually learned at Wal-Mart. I mean anytime you do something as often or as consistently as this, it should offer by sheer statistical probability a few life lessons along the way.
Well, I’m not going the book route, but something interesting happened recently in line while I was reading an email on my phone. It was a blog post from Emily Freeman. She’s one of my favorite “online-one-way-friendships.” What? Doesn’t everyone have those?
She was writing about something simple, yet profound in her awesome kind of way. I started this private conversation with myself (again, please tell me I’m not the only one). “Huh, I wish something cool like that would happen to me”, I said to myself, “then I’d have something cool to write about, because after all….all I do is go to Wal-Mart”. I can be super snarky to myself.
In my spirit though, something serious whispered loud through my snark. “Write about that”.
Because I have some Wal-Mart stories, let me tell you. I have a mental file of the crazy experiences, conversations, and humbling lessons learned in that place. There are hundreds of ways that God has pruned and disciplined, convicted and loved me while pushing a cart with a wonky, squeaking wheel.
I flipped over to my notes app and began frantically typing some of the thought connections that were happening in my brain at the same time as I was also keeping track of the lady in front of me, checking my watch and being PAINFULLY aware of a gentlemen crowding the space behind me. I would scootch up one inch, and he matched me inch for inch, all the way to the conveyor belt.
Couldn’t he see I was having an awkward multitasking epiphany? Why does this thing never happen when I’m up early in the quiet dark drinking coffee?
Anyways…I typed as much as I could before it was my turn to unload my basket on the belt. I then for the first time, turned and made eye contact with space invader. It was an older man and he immediately started to chit-chat. In about 20 seconds I found out he was retired (“it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be”) and usually got up late. If he did get up early he’d eat then go back to sleep in his chair, then wake up with a back ache and he didn’t know if it was going to rain that day.
Fresh from my story/writing/topic epiphany, I just stared at him. Again, with the voices in my head I heard “He’s lonely.”
I put my phone away and made as much meaningless, but connecting conversation as I could before checking out. As I left I watched him pull a large pile of Marie Callender’s microwave meals out of his basket. I imagined him alone with only his TV tray to keep him company and breathed a little prayer for him.
You can tell a lot about a community from people watching in Wal-Mart. Folks in north Dallas stores may look nothing like those in southeast Kansas. But deep down people are people and we are all broken in some form or fashion and Wal-Mart can become the great equalizer. Everyone has to buy their toilet paper somewhere, right?
One of the primary things God has taught me over the years of shopping in the good old Wal-Marts is to wake up and pay attention to the souls around me. Look people in the eye and smile. Be alert to ways that can turn an ordinary day into something special. Use the power of simple observation to be light in a dark world. Every person there is precious to God. I know. It’s simply scandalous.
Let’s be clear. I don’t always want to do this. Ok, rarely do I want to do this. It is waaaayyyy easier to put my head down and rip the shopping band-aid off as quickly as possible. Don’t make eye contact. Walk really fast. Pretend I’m in any place else in the world but Aisle 9 trying to find cream of tartar. I know this from vast experience.
Wal-Mart, along with other grocery stores of course, are the town markets of our age, a sort of microcosm of society. There are all sorts of things to discover about the people of our communities by a simple trip to Wal-Mart.
There are many days when I truly just want to “run in and run out”, and most days, honestly, that is how it goes. But more and more often, the Spirit tugs when I walk in those automatic doors to wake up and be a funnel. It can be a great adventure in loving obedience. You may get to celebrate good news with a friend among shampoo and conditioner. Or, more uncomfortably, get involved in someone’s “mess” that spills out of their eyes over by the taco shells.
I heard someone once say our main job as Christ followers is to love the ones God places in front you. That is the truest biblical definition of “neighbor” that I’ve ever heard. If I believe that definition, then the truth is that Wal-Mart is filled with my neighbors.
And some of them look like space invaders. Oh, boy. Do I have some stories to share!