On a cold, windy day last week, Gay and I drove to the supermarket to shop. Upon arrival at the parking lot, we discovered that lots of other people had the same idea and we had to park about as far away from the store’s entrance as one can park.
When we returned to our, we loaded our purchases into the trunk and I started looking around for the nearest shopping cart return rack. It was halfway back to the store and I shivered when I thought about having to stay out in the cold wind any longer.
Just then, I heard a voice behind me say, “Here, I’ll take that.” I turned and saw a man who had just alighted from his pickup and was walking toward me. As I looked at him, he smiled and said, “I saw you looking for a place to put that cart and I’m headed that way. Let me return it for you.”
I barely managed to say, “Thank you” before he was briskly pushing the cart toward the store entrance. From inside the car, I watched him return the cart to the rack and continue on toward the entrance in pursuit of whatever mission was on his mind.
The memory of that simple, thoughtful, neighborly gesture has remained with me for more than a week. The subtle significance of that brief encounter between strangers continues to gladden my heart. In that moment, the Kingdom of God came near to both of us. Something changed in my universe and, perhaps, in his. I have no idea who he is or what motivated his good deed. I’d like to think it had something to do with his faith, but there is no way to know that. What I do know is that it had something to do with my faith. It is my faith that prompts me to see God’s hand at work in that moment in the lives of two of God’s children – one of us in need and the other with a meaningful response to that need. That empty cart was full of grace. It was an epiphany from a shopping cart.
We often focus on big goals in mission and ministry: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, rebuilding storm-ravaged communities, teaching at-risk children to read. But let us not neglect to do good in those smaller, simpler ways, such as offering to return someone’s shopping cart, share a heavy load, sending a smile to someone who has a frown, speaking a word of encouragement to someone who seems worried, letting someone know you are thinking about them. There must be thousands of opportunities to do those good works that God “has prepared for us to walk in” every day. May God open our eyes to see them and move our hands and feet to respond. For in the intersection of another’s need and our response, no matter how simple, the universe is changed. And because God is at the center of those intersections, the change is for the better.