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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Devotion- A God-moment at the Grocery

Janet Rubin

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

The man whose job it is to gather shopping carts from the parking lot exited the grocery store just as I did. As we squeezed side-by-side through the automatic doors, he remarked, “Next week’s the big two-two for me.”

For a moment he caught me by surprise, speaking to me as if he knew me. But I glanced up and remembered that this familiar-looking man had spoken to me before. We had passed in the parking lot a couple of weeks before Super bowl Sunday, and he’d said, “Greenbay’s goin to the Superbowl. No doubt about it.” He’d been wrong on that count. I frowned, trying to figure out what his current declaration meant. He couldn’t be turning twenty-two; he had to be in his forties or more likely fifties.

Soon enough he cleared up my confusion. “I’ll have been working here for twenty-two years!”

“Wow,” I exclaimed as I shoved my cart through the two-inch deep snow toward my mini-van. “Congratulations. That’s a lot of work you’ve done.” (No wonder the fellow looked familiar; I’d shopped there all my life, which meant I must have been seeing him since I was fourteen!)

I reached my van and opened the hatch, while the man began collecting carts, gathering them together like a cowboy rounding up cattle. “I come here and work hard every day,” he said proudly, “then I go home to a beautiful wife.”

Something stirred inside of me. The man was beaming. “God has blessed you,” I said, meaning it. “You have a good life.”

I piled my Fruit Loops and dog bones and Tide detergent into my van.

“We have a cockatiel named Spike, too. He’s little. Only about this big.” He took his hands off the cart he pushed to indicate the bird’s size.

“That’s cool,” I said. “I have two dogs, named Hunter and Murphy.”

Soon, my groceries were loaded. The man happily took my cart off my hands, and I headed for the driver’s side door, congratulating him again on his twenty-second anniversary. Just before I slammed my door, he hollered, “My name’s Bob, by the way. You’re welcome to visit this store anytime.”

It almost feels like I don’t need to spell out the spiritual lessons here. Does Bob know about Jesus? Maybe I’ll ask him next time I go shopping. Whether he does or not, he’s doing some things the Bible recommends far better than I am.

Bob is content with the life he has been given. He is thankful for his job, his wife and his cockatiel. He’s kind, reaching out to his fellow human beings. He is hard-working and joyful. “I come here and work hard every day,” he said. Can we say that?

I think about how goal-oriented we pre-published writers are. Sometimes it seems that everything is somewhere in the future, the contract-signing day we are living to see. And our happiness somehow hinges on that day coming to pass. My conversations are so often about the books I hope to publish, the degree I hope to earn, the career I hope to have. But God doesn’t want us to store up our treasures in barns or worry about tomorrow. He wants us to be content in every situation, to find pleasure in having worked hard today, and if we are blessed with a family, to treasure them. He doesn’t want us complaining, but rather giving thanks.

I confess that without really thinking about it, I’ve probably always looked down a bit on people like Bob, felt sorry for them. People whose mental capacity relegates them to jobs like grocery-bagging or cart-collecting, without hope of advancement. But as I drove away in my mini-van, I envied Bob. His attitude was so obviously superior to mine. He has acheived a level of contentment that few of us will see this side of heaven. God bless Bob.

Lord, I thank You for putting Bob in my path today. Make me content and thankful like him. Help me to be pleasant and cheerful and helpful. Help me to appreciate the job and family You’ve given me. Thanks for reminding me that it isn’t so much what you do as how you do it. Help me to do my work to the best of my ability, as unto you, and to find pleasure in doing so. Amen


  1. *A note.

    A friend of mine emailed after reading this devotion, saying it "hit a sore spot" for her. You see, she works in a grocery store, and doesn't love it. She struggles financially and does feel that people look down on her.

    Hmm. Well, it's one thing to write a devotional on something; that's easy. It's quite another to come up with good answers when presented with someone's real life difficulties.

    My thoughts: this devotion isn't supposed to be about not having goals or wanting to advance. I worked at a Mobil gas station for five years (wore one of those shirts with the pegasus on it and had my own little name tag.) I'd gotten pregnant at 18, hadn't gone to college, and wasn't hoping to one day celebrate my 22nd year as a gas station employee. Even now, though my life is great- wonderful husband and children, church, friends, writing- I still want to advance. I'm finally getting to that college-thing (8 more classes and I'll have my Associates!). I have big dreams. So I'm not at all anti-dream-chasing.

    I guess that bottom line is that our happiness, our joy, shouldn't depend on seeing those dreams arrive. If we have Jesus, we should be able to find joy here and now. It doesn't mean you have to love your job. You might have a mean boss, or a job you despise, or one that doesn't pay enough to meet your needs.

    What I'm suggesting is that we strive for contentment. During a conversation about the elusiveness of contentment, a friend of mine remarked, "I've spent 57 years window shopping with my nose pressed against the glass of the contentment store." I think that sums it up. We all know we're supposed to be content. We all want to be content. How to get there? I can't answer that one.

    I'll pray we can all figure it out.

  2. What a wonderful post. Truly great. Thank you.
    Katie from Albuquerque

  3. Janet,
    Thank you for this post. The thing about Bob is not that he works in a grocery store, but that he is content where he is. As a host home provider for developmentally disabled adults, I immediately saw in Bob what I see in many disabled adults--happiness with their lot in life. For some, it may be that they don't know any other life. For others, the trappings of success that bewitch so many of us just don't mean anything to them. I always learn from every disabled person I meet, whatever their level of functioning may be. The most important thing I've learned is unconditional love.

  4. Thanks, Mike, Katie, Linda,
    Yes, Linda, you have to wonder who the disabled ones are, huh?

  5. This post reminds me of Dewayne. I knew him for years and always envied his quick smile and great attitude. The fact that his Down's Syndrome came with severe heart problems didn't seem to phase him.

    He'd greet me with enthusiasm when he checked in at the doctors office, always seeming thrilled that I still worked there. I visited his church once and was truly humbled that he sang in the choir. His voice belted out the songs, slightly off-key, while I still can't work up the courage to sing in even large groups.

    I imagine that heaven is a sweeter place now that he has arrived.


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