This past Saturday I headed up to “The Walmart” for a couple of items I neglected to purchase the day before during my normal grocery run. I had gone shoppin’ without a list. Which is never a good idea and certainly not good when I needed to make a specific recipe (to serve at a special seven-year-old’s birthday party) I did not have memorized.
As I walked in, Pete greeted me with his usual warm smile. Pete is a middle-aged, five-foot-six maybe, salt-and-pepper gray-bearded greeter. He’s incredibly kind and super young to be a greeter. He’s sharp as a tack too so the narrative I have created about him is that he’s a retired middle school principal whose wife insisted he find something to do with himself during the day other than bug her.
Pete is frequently the first face I see when I walk through the doors.
After an hour of shopping and waiting in line, because The Walmart is a busy joint in December, I began pushing my way towards the door. I saw an older woman standing in the middle of the front walkway, not moving. Her cart was pointed towards the bench but she wasn’t actually walking towards it. I watched as several people walk around her, on both sides, grunting as they did.
Once I reached her, I asked if she needed help and whaddya know, she did. She was out of breath, standing only because she was leaning on the cart, and sweating. Between the two of us, it takes every bit of our strength to get her safely to the bench and seated. I told her, I’m going to find Pete to help you get to your car.
I found Pete, he said he’d be right there, and I headed back to check on the lady. As I’m telling her Pete is coming to help her get to the car, she points to her cart and says she needs to pay for her groceries first.
We are directly in front of the self-checkout lines where ZERO PEOPLE were actually checking out. Praise the Lord. She handed me some cash and I began checking out her groceries. She didn’t have much. Buying for just one person, I suspected. But it really does take a good bit of physical work to get those groceries out of the cart, scanned, into the bags, and then back in the cart. Pete joined me to help get the cart loaded and we talked as we worked.
Pete told me just last week, another elderly woman sat down on that same bench after checking out and he noticed she had been there for a good while. He started keeping track. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. He would check in with her every now and again to see if he could do anything for her and she always claimed to be fine. Finally, he asked her if she had a way to get home. That was apparently the magic question. She had gotten a ride TO The Walmart but did not have a ride home FROM The Walmart.
What in the world, Y’all?
After we finished ringing up the groceries, the cash our new friend had given me was $8.27 short. Pete went to ask her what she wanted to do while I slid my debit card in before objections could be made. No way this sweet lady goes chicken-less two weeks before Christmas.
Groceries bagged and paid for, Pete asked if he could give me a hug and we just right there, in the middle of the self-checkout coral in The Walmart, front hugged like two old friends. We walked the grocery cart back over and the lady was almost in tears. I’m not sure when the last time someone had shown her any kindness but based on her reaction, she was due a healthy dose of it.
All in all, the entire thing had taken an extra half hour of time and $8.27.
Only Naaman the Syrian…
All week, I kept thinking about the Israelites in Elisha’s time. In Nazareth, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, telling them how hard it is for prophets to serve in their own communities, he says,
“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” ~Luke 4:27 (NIV)
I wonder what all of those Israelites with leprosy were doing. Were they seeking cures elsewhere? Maybe seeing doctor after doctor after doctor. Doing some acupuncture. Drinking an herb tea. All while this man of God sat right there in the center of their every day, ordinary, walking-around life and no one was able to see the healing he could offer.
Or maybe they knew Elisha was a man of God but he’d offered them the same formula he gave Naaman. Go dip in the Jordan River seven times. Maybe they’d already gotten that prescription and thought, like Naaman at first, this is craziness. It’s a bath. In a very ordinary, dirty river. That’s just too crazy to even consider.
I wonder how many times they cried out to God for a miraculous healing. Something fancy and grand and on a stage where all could see the mighty hand of God at work. God didn’t do that. Although, He could have. He had already put a prophet, a man of God, right there in their ordinary life. In their city, on their street, walking with them to temple daily. But instead of being healed, they walked around in their sickness, unclean, dying.
Only a foreigner, an enemy of Israel, a worshiper of pagan gods, only Naaman was healed.
Only Pete the Greeter…
I think about all the people who walked past the elderly women in The Walmart. Both standing in the middle of the aisle and sitting on a bench for hours on end. How many walked by them, noticed they needed help, but thought, “I can’t. I’ve got too much to do. This time of year is just too crazy to even consider stopping to help.”
How many of the people who walked right past them went home to wrap presents for their families, bake cookies for their Sunday School classes, prep their homes for company Christmas parties?
How many of them have “Happy Birthday Jesus” signs in their yards or blow-up manager scenes or bumper stickers shouting, “Keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas?”
We read the scriptures about helping our neighbor but do we actually do it? We know God goes with us, He never leaves us, but do we ask Him for His eyes to see before we start our day? The women and men all around us in our every day, ordinary, walking around life who need someone to reach the top shelf at the grocery store, or someone to give them a ride to and then from the store, or a friend to say I have an empty seat at my table and I’d love for you to come to eat with us this Christmas.
But right there, in the middle of our ordinary, multiple-visits-a-week Walmart, Pete the Greeter quietly serves and honors and loves the people others walk right by. And sure, you could say he’s an employee but I think it’s safe to say finding transportation and helping customers to the car is above and beyond.
Pete is active and busy and, this time of year, has hundreds of customers walk through his doors but he takes the time to see those around him. I know he does because I know his name. He’s smiled and greeted and welcomed me into my local Walmart numerous times. So when I saw a woman in need of assistance, I knew I needed to find Pete.
Only You the Jesus-follower…
How many of us want to serve the Jesus who came humbly into this world but only want to serve Him with grand gestures? Expensive gifts and Pinterest-worthy table settings and Christmas programs that give Circ du solei a run for their money.
We give when our name shows up on the side of a donation webpage. We serve when the church arranges a mission trip or our Sunday School teacher finds a soup kitchen for us. We love the least of these when it fits nicely into our scheduled, packed, stressed lives. When it’s something we can put on our calendar and walk away from feeling like God’s reminding us of how blessed we are.
There but for the grace of God, go I, you know.
Friend, if our response to our Savior’s birth is packed schedules and parties blessing the blessed and presents up to the ceiling for people who want for nothing, then we have completely missed the point.
Naaman tried that approach. He begged Elisha, “…please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha would not. Naaman’s healing had come free of charge.
Elisha needed nothing of worldly value from him because what Naaman had received wasn’t given from this world.
Naaman could offer only one thing as a response to the free gift of healing…His worship of the one true God of Israel.
This season, let’s offer our worship to the one true God and His one true Son.
Let’s bake cookies for our homebound neighbor. Let’s rake the leaves in our next door neighbor’s yard just because. Let’s give our kids two fewer things that are just going to take up space and dust in a week and adopt two more Angel Tree kids. Let’s offer to babysit your stay-at-home mom friend’s kids during the day, when THE SUN IS OUT, so she can shop or have lunch with a friend or sit quietly at the library.
Let’s not be in such a rush we miss the people right in the middle of The Walmart aisle who need a smile, a little time, and an extra $8.27 to buy groceries.
If we really want to celebrate the birth of our Savior, if we really want to offer Him our worship, then let’s do what He’s asked us to do…
Love God more than anything else and love your neighbor more than you love yourself.
And if every person, every member of a church did just that, we’d never have to put out a single blow up manager or light up Happy Birthday Jesus sign again. Because every person in our lives would already know we serve the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
We serve King Jesus.