Archived Story

A faithful life is made of gestures big and small

Published 9:03am Friday, December 7, 2012

Column: Across the Pastor’s Desk, By the Rev. Tom Biatek, United Methodist Church of Albert Lea

I was in the grocery store the other day waiting at the register while others were checking out. Just in front of me was an older woman with a few items. She seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. I was a bit in a rush too so I shared her anxiety.

“I don’t know why they don’t open another register,” she said to me, loud enough for others to hear.

“It does take time sometimes, “ I said vaguely.

In front of us, at the register, was a trainee employee. She was doing her best but obviously was having trouble with something. Another employee was watching her, simply observing while the trainee solved whatever the problem was.

The man purchasing groceries was fiddling with the credit card machine. He ran his card through, looked sheepishly at the check out trainee, and he apologized.

“I don’t know what is wrong,” he said. He punched a few buttons but nothing happened. The trainee punched a few buttons and nothing happened. The supervisor looked on, smiling slightly as if she knew what was wrong but wasn’t going to say. The man at the register tried another card. It didn’t work. He looked in his wallet for cash but there was none.

The woman in front of me huffed again and looked at her watch. She looked at me and rolled her eyes. I smiled to her.

“It takes time sometimes,” I said.

The man tried the first credit card again. He punched a button. The trainee punched some buttons. A receipt popped out of the receipt machine. The man smiled and looked at the line behind him.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I do not know how to do these things.” He had an accent that suggested he was from somewhere far away and I thought he looked a little lost. The woman turned to me and nodded as if to say, “I told you so!” I was beginning to not like her.

The check out person bagged the groceries and the man walked out the door. I saw him stop to talk to the Salvation Army Bell ringer and then head out to the parking lot. The woman in front of me paid cash for her purchases and was quickly on her way. Before she left, she looked at me and said, “He’s not from here.” I imagined there was scorn in her voice. I made my purchase and I too left the store.

It was in the parking lot that I saw the man talking to the woman from the check out line. She was gesturing with her hands as she talked and seemed to have a distressed look on her face. “‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘That woman is giving it to that poor guy.’” I walked over to them and was about to speak when I heard her say, “It’s OK, you know. I came here from Germany a long time ago and it gets better. It’s very hard at first, but you will learn. You will do fine.” The man looked relieved and thanked her.

I had it all wrong. The scornful impatient woman was not who I imagined her to be. In fact, she was the opposite. Those looks she gave me in the store were not influenced by impatience or contempt but were looks of sympathy and understanding. She knew and understood. I was the one with the judgmental thoughts and assumptions. I was the one who did not understand.

“Have a good day,” I said as I walked by. The man smiled and nodded. The woman smiled and nodded. I smiled too, as I walked to my car. The day seemed to be brightening up.

A faithful life is made up of gestures big and small. Our outlook on others can be colored by the smallest of assumptions. A good day can hinge on our attitude and our willingness to be open and generous. From small acts of love, great things can be done. Jesus said, “When the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me …’” Matthew 25:31-46