A friend on Facebook recently shared this poster about road rage:
When I saw that poster, a grimace spread over my face. More than likely, I’m the one that causes the road rage. I’m one of those pesky shoppers who goes too slow, parks my cart in the middle of the produce aisle so I can bypass the other carts in my way and grab some bananas, careens around corners oblivious to oncoming carts, and the one who hogs the shelves while reading the microprint ingredient list. Before my eye surgery ten years ago, I’d tell my husband it was a good day if I didn’t run my shopping cart into anyone.
One of Jesus’ main purposes in the first section of his Sermon on the Mount was to expose attitudes and inner motivations. Jesus’ main point was that inner thoughts are as damaging and sinful as the actual act.
Who of us hasn’t grumbled inwardly at folks who take our parking space, at the over-sized woman with a fistful of coupons at the cash register, or the screaming baby under the care of a mom strolling through Walmart with an overloaded basket of junk food? I’ve been there. According to what Jesus wrote, aren’t I then guilty of road rage?
Whenever I’m tempted to be judgmental of annoying customers, I try to put the shoe on the other foot and realize that person at the other end of the shopping cart could be me. I can easily imagine a harried working mom of teenagers going home to her husband. “You wouldn’t believe the woman who crashed into my cart today,” she’d say. “The woman said she couldn’t see. They shouldn’t let people like that into Walmart. If she has so much trouble seeing, why doesn’t she get someone to shop with her?”
Because . . . where do I start?
Since I know I deserve Walmart road rage, I’ve come to have compassion for the moms with screaming babies, and the old ladies with canes and hunched backs. There but for the grace of God go I. Whenever I’m tempted to be annoyed at one of the slower than slow that mess up my shopping experience, I make up stories about the person. Fortunately, as a novelist, I’ve had lots of practice in creativity.
One day, when my husband met up with me after doing our usual divide and conquer Walmart battle plan, I asked him if he had got what he needed. “Yeah but I can hardly wait to get out of here,” he grumbled. “There was this screaming kid. Why couldn’t the mother make him stop?” My husband isn’t usually like this. He was having a slower than slow day too because of his chronic pain.
I know, I know. The kid needs a nap. Why doesn’t Mom leave the kids with her husband and shop by herself? Why not another time than right now? Why can’t she be a stricter disciplinarian?
“Let’s make up a story about her,” I said too brightly for my husband’s taste. “Maybe she’s a single mom whose babysitter got sick this morning. She’s out of milk, school got canceled, and she had to miss work because of the babysitter. Maybe she has a drunken abusive husband and she’s escaping to Walmart with the kids hoping he’ll settle down while she’s gone. Maybe she doesn’t dare discipline the kids like she ought to because who knows what employee from Child Protective Services might be lurking around the corner.” A publishing company can’t pay me to write this stuff.
How do you overcome inner road rage whether it’s on the road or in a shopping aisle?
- Put yourself in the offending party’s shoes. Have you ever messed up in ways that would make others annoyed at you?
- Make up stories. If you can’t see right off why the person may be an obstruction to other drivers or shoppers, imagine what might make the person a difficult person at that moment. Give them some slack.
- Determine to display the same grace Christ extends to you – an attitude of compassion and patience.
- Pray for the person. Pray that God will help them overcome the difficulties in their life. Pray that if they aren’t a Jesus follower, that they will find salvation through Christ.
- Bear their burdens. I so well remember the time I blocked another customer in the grocery store aisle. Instead of being annoyed, she asked if she could help me find something. She didn’t know that I was visually impaired, my husband didn’t come in with me because his back hurt, I was in a rush, I felt pressure to find this one obscure item needed to make a dish for a church function, I was near tears with frustration and fatigue, and I was praying that God would help me find this item quickly. She just offered to help.
Come to find out, she was an off-duty store clerk and had put the seasonal item I was looking for on an end cap earlier that day.
Who knows? Your offer to help could be the answer to someone’s prayer.
Here are some other ways you can offer grace to annoying customers:
- Smile at the crying child and redirect their attention. (If nothing else,talk about the blinking lights on their shoes. Aren’t those cool?)
- Tell the frazzled mother, “Hang in there Mom. You’re doing a good job.” Mothers crave praise.
- Slow down and follow the elderly lady with the cane. Walmart aisles are not a race track with passing zones. No tailgating either! While you match your speed to theirs, enjoy the scenery. Someday you will appreciate someone else slowing down for you. And Walmart will appreciate the few extra items that slip into your shopping cart.
If someone cuts you off, crashes into you, or takes the last can of whatever that you wanted, smile. Trust God to meet your needs and remember that people are more important than anything you could buy.
Our ultimate goal as Christians is not to get our shopping done. It’s to reflect the love of Jesus Christ wherever we go. I can’t think of a better way to reflect th grace of Christ than showing patience with an annoying fellow customer.
How do you cope with obnoxious customers? How has someone shown grace to you at a store? I’d love to hear your comments!