Have you ever been in the express checkout lane of the grocery store, and you see people who were in longer lines, who had shopping carts filled to the brim, walking out the door? And you’re still standing in the line that’s supposed to go quickly? What’s going on?

Well, maybe someone decided that the 10 items or less rule didn’t apply to them. Or maybe Granny is writing a check. Maybe Pops has pulled out his change purse and is trying to find 4 pennies. Or maybe someone’s debit card isn’t working.

We go to the express checkout to check out expressly. Quickly. Fast. And when someone is holding up the works it can be a little annoying. Most of the time it’s no major deal. But sometimes….

It was an early Saturday evening and I went out to buy my wife’s favorite ice cream. I didn’t find it in our local store so I drove up the road to see if another grocer had it in stock. Yay! They did, so I put two containers in my little basket and headed for the express lane.

There was only one couple in front of me as I put the ice cream on the conveyor belt. I started scanning the headlines on the various gossip rags (Bigfoot sightings, UFO abductions), and after a bit I realized the line was not moving. So I tuned back in to what was going on and after observing the antics for a bit I started to do a slow burn.

The couple in front of me were purchasing several bags of substantially discounted holiday Hershey’s Kisses. But the price per bag was ringing up a few cents more than what the shelf price said. And when I mean a few cents, I mean a few cents. Pennies. The cashier apologized, but that was not adequate for this pair. The manager was summoned. He tried to mollify the couple, explaining that they had 14,000 items in their inventory and sometimes there were mistakes. But that was not acceptable. The discussion went on. And on. And on.

After waiting for what seemed like hours (well…) a lightbulb went off in my brain. I had come up with an idea that would solve this logjam. So I opened my mouth and spoke these words with full sincerity but with a measure of sarcasm: “How about if I pay the price difference so that we can all get out of here and my ice cream doesn’t melt.”

Silence. The cashier, the manager, and the couple are now looking at me.

The wife turned, looked me up and down and sneered, “You’re rude.”

Hmmmm.

Ok, maybe it was a bit wise-guy, so I said, “I’m not trying to be rude. But I’d like to get home.”

She replied, “If you’re in that big of a hurry, why didn’t you go to 7-Eleven?” Slow burn back on.

I answered, “Because I didn’t want to go to 7-Eleven.

At this point the husband took over the negotiations. He said, “You have to understand! This isn’t about us! What if some poor old lady came in and wanted the candy and had to pay more money?”

I can assure you, dear reader, that there wasn’t a poor old lady within 5 miles of this grocery store. But I let his response go and said, “Look, I understand you have a right to the correct price, but I really am willing to pay the difference so that we can all leave.”

Eventually they paid for their order and continued to engage the manager in a dispute about cash register accuracy. I paid for my ice cream, which probably could have been poured into glasses, and left the store.

No, I need to correct that. I didn’t just “leave the store.” I left the store feeling like a champion. I had dared to speak up and face down the most annoying kind of shopper in the world. If other shoppers had known what I had done, that I actually had said something to this couple, they would have put me on their shoulders and carried me through the aisles singing my praises. Word would spread and I would be the idol of grocery shoppers everywhere.

I got in my car, feeling like I had done what so many others through the centuries wish that they could have been able to do, reveling in my rapier wit. And I started to drive away.

And then a tiny voice in my mind raised this question. “What if that couple shows up to church tomorrow?”

Oh.

Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so heroic or witty. And I was quite relieved when, on the following morning, my fellow shoppers weren’t sitting in my church eating Hershey Kisses.

Last week I wrote about the importance of integrity. I titled the post “People Are Watching.” And they are. And while we may be free from major moral failure, all it takes is opening our mouths at the wrong time or in the wrong way, or doing something stupid to potentially derail our reputation and undercut the work of the Gospel.

We need to watch our words and actions. Yes, even when people cross the “Annoying” line. When you eat out, order your morning coffee, deal with a salesperson, a cop, your kids’ teachers, or the guy who delivers your Amazon packages, remember who we represent.

And if the person in the express lane is taking too long, just go to 7-Eleven.

12 Comments

  1. I appreciate your point about being mindful of who is watching, but in this example, you did nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for. You were not rude, you didn’t swear at them or belittle them. You just offered to make things right in your desire to get on with your day.

    What if they show up in your church the next day? Well, what if that checker shows up? Or the person in line behind you. They’ll think higher of you because you gently voiced what they all were thinking.

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    1. Thanks for your response Chris. I guess as I left I felt that I poked my nose in where it didn’t belong. And while I don’t believe that God speaks audibly to us, it was hard to ignore that little voice in my conscience. To me, the bottom line was that they were offended even though they were being ridiculous.

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      1. Peter, thanks for being transparent. That could have been my story, and has been my story a hundred times in different situations. It’s the sarcasm in my responses (not whether they are true or not), that exhibits the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit – (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control). Not only are other offended at me when this comes out, but worse, my God is.

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      2. Thanks, Randy! My blog isn’t widely read unless Tim links to it, but I’ve gotten more feedback on this article than anything else I’ve written. So it seems to have resonated both with those, like me, who have been a bit annoyed by people being inconsiderate as well as people, like me, who need to be reminded of how to behave in those situations. I’ve appreciated the various viewpoints expressed comments and email. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Some people are always going to be offended when it’s pointed out that they’re being ridiculous. In fact, the more ridiculous they are, the more likely to be offended, in my experience. I agree you it doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong. Society kind of relies on checks and balances, and a bit of shame when someone is being totally inconsiderate of others isn’t a bad thing.

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  3. I, too, had an opportunity to tell a financial agent on the phone that he had made so many math mistakes, why was he working for a financial company? The Holy Spirit convicted me about who was listening to this interchange before I said what I felt like saying. When he told me it was acceptable to use whiteout on a document I was submitting, I just said thank you (without sarcasm). This was better than I did on previous calls!

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    1. Thanks, Debbie, for sharing your story. I am recalling what James said about the tongue. No matter how young or old we are, it can be a battle. But I’m glad you handled it well. Thanks for stopping by!

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