One of my most dreaded outings is grocery shopping.  I’ve despised shopping for groceries since I was a child.  Can’t even pinpoint a traumatic experience; I just find the whole thing unpleasant.

During an evening church event, I recalled that I was serving Communion at our Vespers service and I was in charge of the elements.  Usually, various lovely lay leaders take care of this.  But I agreed to handle preparing the bread and grape juice for this service.  Yes, there was grape juice in the fridge in the small kitchen; score!  I’ll check before I leave though.  But bread.  Alas, no bread here and I don’t have any at home—one of the many items I forgot when I went grocery shopping the other day.  There’s that pita in there, but how long has it been there?  Gross, I need to clean out that fridge!  And need to go grocery shopping.  Again.  Better go after this meeting because tomorrow is crazy.

Just before the store closed, I ran in to get bread.  It was 8:40 and I still hadn’t eaten dinner.  Better throw in a sandwich from the deli.  As I headed up to the Express Checkout, I noticed a man in front of me who seemed to have more than the 12 items allowed to be in this VIP line in the first place.  He looked at me and I looked at him, sizing up our respective purchases, thinking to ourselves—how long are you going to take to get through this line? 

Then something remarkable happened.  The man looked back at me and said, “You only have 2 things, go in front of me.”  “What?”  I stared at him blankly, “Oh, no it’s fine.  You’re ahead of me, no worries.”  “No,” he said, “I mean it; please go in front of me.”

Shrugging my shoulders and smiling, I thanked him.  The conversation continued.  “You know that movie with Kevin Spacey?  And, oh what’s her name, she was Paul Riser’s wife on that show . . . Helen Hunt!  Yes! What’s that movie, about the kid?”  “Pay It Forward?”  “Yes!  Pay it Forward.  I figure what goes around comes around.  And if I let you go ahead of me in line, then maybe something nice will happen to me, you know?”

Turning to look at him, really look at this man, I saw pure hope on his face.  Middle aged, salt of the earth, and so hopeful.  Part of me thought—Yes, you are paying it forward.  You’re living out the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It’s great that you let me cut in line.  But just because you’re being nice, doesn’t mean that nice things will always happen to you.  Jesus said that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.[1]  Even he knew that sometimes life doesn’t work out how we plan and nice guys finish last.  But, don’t lose hope.  Keep being nice even if you don’t seem to benefit right now!

Did I say any of this to him?  Nope.  I smiled politely, thanked him once again for letting me cut in line, paid for my bread and my sandwich and went on my way, back out into the world, the world where the sun rises on the evil and the good and rains on the righteous and the unrighteous.

But you know, maybe grocery shopping isn’t so bad after all.