My face flushed and my heart started to race as I felt all eyes on me. The guy in line behind me gave a heavy, dissatisfied sigh, and the cashier trainer muttered to the trainee at the register, “welcome to summer.”
I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and disappear. I was on vacation with my family and friends and had gone to the local grocery store to buy a week’s worth of food and supplies. I was distractedly going through my list, comparing it to what was in the cart to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything when I spotted the shortest check-out line and walked up. I began to unload my full cart onto the belt and said hello to the cashier who mumbled a quick hello back. A few moments later a line began forming behind me and the aforementioned guy directly behind me pointed out, in a not-too-polite way, that I was in the express check-out line. I looked up and for the first time noticed a sign that said 15 items or less.
My friend, who is much better in these situations than I am, tried to lighten the mood and said, “I bet you just love when summer comes and all of the tourists arrive.” And he said, very matter-of-factly, “Actually I hate it.” He might as well have said to me “I hate you.” Because that’s how it felt.
Despite numerous apologies and explaining I didn’t see the sign, I left the store and left behind a bunch of very aggravated locals, as I got in my car feeling totally humiliated.
For weeks, months even, I replayed that scene and thought of all the things I could have said, should have said. I vacillated between being embarrassed, angry, and hurt. Then I wondered “why did it bother me so much?” I would never see these people again, why did I care how they reacted to my honest mistake?
Eventually I realized the root of the issue was I had received no mercy from the people at the store; no hint of forgiveness or understanding. They were in a hurry and I was slowing them down. There was no time for grace.
I confess that when I looked deep in my heart I knew that there were many times I, too have been guilty of believing there was no time for grace.
I’ve stood in a check-out line behind the woman with 45 coupons and sighed heavily at the delay it meant for me.
I’ve zoomed past a slow-moving car in the left lane and muttered under my breath an uncharitable and unkind sentiment about their driving skills because I was in a hurry to get somewhere.
I’ve lost my temper with my children because they forgot their lunch/shoes/clothes/bag in the house and had to run back inside while the rest of us waited in the car, already late for school or practice.
Because of my plans, my agenda, and my timing I have been unable or unwilling to stop and extend grace to someone else.
I’m so grateful my heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. If he was like me, I can imagine he’d sigh-heavily, roll his eyes and say, “really Jelise?! How many times have I shown you what to do? I’ve given you a better way, and yet you still haven’t gotten it! I’m done waiting. I’ve got more important matters to attend to. I don’t have time for children who don’t read the signs.”
But there is no limit on God’s grace for us.
Psalm 103 says:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8, 11-12)
As far as the east is from the west, that’s how big God’s grace is for us. His grace knows no end.
And then, the inevitable question: if God’s grace for me knows no limits, wouldn’t He want me to try and offer the same to others? I don’t have to wonder because scripture tells me He does.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32
So here I sit, asking myself, “what makes me and my life so important that I can’t find the time to show patience, compassion, and mercy toward others?”
Maybe that lady with the 45 coupons is trying to feed a family of four on minimum wage and the only way she can afford groceries is to clip those coupons. Maybe that guy in the left lane just received bad news, is consumed by worry and doesn’t realize he’s in the passing lane. Maybe my kids need an extra 15 minutes in the morning to get themselves and their stuff together because when I rush them it makes them nervous and causes them to forget things.
Why is my need to get where I’m going, on my timeline more important than extending forgiveness or understanding? It’s not.
That scene from the store at the beach still plays in my mind. But now I think if I could go back and do anything differently, I would simply say, “I’m so sorry my mistake is impacting your day. I hope you can forgive me and extend a little forgiveness, since we could all use more grace in our life.”
And then I would try and do the same thing for them.