Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sorry if I offended--A Lenten Meditation

I've been mulling over this post since yesterday. Yesterday afternoon I had to do a run up to Mitchell about 45 minutes away. While I was there, I stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some items that I couldn't get in town. I'm pushing my shopping cart around and doing what I usually do when shopping in a big store--I'm looking for a quick checkout lane. As I walked by, I scanned the register area, some with screaming kids, some with food and other items piled to the sky. One person had a palm tree in their shopping cart. Then I found it. I found the prime register. Only one small family--a man and a woman in their 20's and a little boy--and a few groceries. I pulled into that lane.

Then, I thought to myself "Watch, this is going to be the lane that they'll need to do a price check or something on." And sure enough, no sooner did I say that to myself that trouble began. First they had to do a price check. Then a void, which meant waiting for a supervisor. Then the credit card reader thingy-do-hicky wasn't working. Okay, not a problem. Then their card was declined. Okay, problem. They started to look a bit embarrassed. They shuffled their feet. They didn't make eye contact with anyone. They then took some non-essentials out of the cart to return. Still not enough. The supervisor, still there, offered to suspend the account. The young couple quietly walked to the ATM.

My items were rung up. Credit card reader thingy-do-hicky didn't read my card either. Which made me a bit nervous. But it went through on the register. My stuff was bagged up when the young couple came back and told the cashier to put the items back. I then told the cashier that I would take care of their order. I took my card back out of my wallet and began to hand it to the cashier. The young couple looked shocked and then ashamed. They said no repeatedly and then left. The cart had been filled with food and kids clothing. Not alcohol, no frivolous items. Cloths and food. And they walked away. I could feel their heavy hearts in my soul as they walked out.

I felt bad. I felt that in my attempt to help, I offended them.

If I did, I'm sorry.

I wanted to help.

I began to think about a time when a Rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus told the man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. The rich young man walked away saddened because he had much wealth.

This young couple walked away--did they have too much pride? Did they have too much shame? Was it a combination of the too? I didn't want to give a handout, I wanted to give a hand-up. But they walked away.

They walked away broken and sad. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I tried to look for them, maybe offer again to help (or would that be like stalking?).

I began to think about Lent. Lent is for them. Lent is for those who are broken and saddened.

There is a song by Barlow Girl that rings so true (it is edited to a Teen Titans story arc)

Easter offends and mends at the same time. There's something honestly offensive about someone going above and beyond doing something completely gracious for you without your asking. For me with that young couple, it was neither above nor beyond. It was a small tab. A very small tab that they couldn't afford. It wouldn't have taken much on my part.

On the other hand, our tab with God is high. Very high. A tab for sin that we can never pay back. Jesus went to the cross to pay what we owe without our asking. And that offends us. We didn't want it. We need it but we didn't ask for it.

Easter is about the price being paid and a mending of relationships, a mending of making all things new again. Jesus came for the broken and the bruised, for the hurting and the struggling, he came for rich and poor alike. He came to bring us back to God by paying the tab we owed.


  1. I'm not sure where this quote comes from, but "God helps them who help themselves." All you can do is offer help. Whether that help is accepted or not is not up to you. You offered. That should be enough. Stop beating yourself up because the people you offered to help refused. Your intentions were pure.

  2. Your kind & selfless act was too shocking to be understood and accepted for what it was. Although for you, this may have been a way to show the meaning of "friend in Christ", to them it was probably horrifying to think that someone pitied them publically!

    I think it was a normal reaction; no one wants a hand out as you mentioned, though that wasn't your intention...

    Maybe you can do a poll asking friends & neighbors how they would react to a stranger offering them charity? And what approach would put them at ease so that they may be more receptive to the random kindness of others?

    I'm sure that couple knows in their hearts that you didn't mean any harm and that you weren't a weird stalker dude----but still, ego, pride, sadness, loss of self-respect can make people run away in shame...!

  3. Brother you nailed me with this one. My wife and I were that young couple once. She left the checkbook in her purse in our car when we went to pay for our groceries no money. The lady behind us thought we were caught short and insisted on paying, of course I wanted to walk to my car and get the checkbook but she misread my situation. What to do? I humbled myself and allowed her to serve me so that she could be blessed by blessing us. Given the chance we helped someone else in our turn. I wish some people I love could swallow their pride and let Jesus work on the cross pay their sin debt but they will insist on paying it themselves. Thanks for your post, Carl

  4. @ Drachma Girl...
    I really think it's a darned if you do and darned if you don't situation. It takes a person willing to accept help to get it, but at the same time, it takes someone willing to try to help.

    I really think that many times there are people so needing and wanting to accept help and no one gives it and there are other times when people are so willing to help but no one is willing to accept it.

    Then you have the times when neither want to help nor be helped...

    You just have to try out of love and see what happens...

    I still wonder if I had just slipped the card to the cashier when their backs were turned at the ATM if that might have been smoother than doing so when they were facing me