missionary in Arizona, helping the caffeine-deprived understand that real coffee doesn’t necessarily have to taste like bitter charcoal water.
Jerry and I stood in a long check-out line at Hobby Lobby, my favorite craft and home décor store. Although there were four check-out stands, only one had a cashier and the other three remained vacant. Many people–five, six, maybe ten–stood in line ahead of us. Just as many stood behind us. The line crept slowly, then stopped. Our cashier apparently had a problem with a transaction. She held the phone to her ear, her eyes darting anxiously around for assistance. Finally I had to break my new year’s resolution to not complain.
“Only one cashier and all these people waiting!” I said to Jerry with aghast emphasis.
The lady standing behind me picked right up on my complaint. “Look at all those employees over there, standing around and doing nothing,” she said, appalled at the sight. Another lady further down the line, said, “If this line doesn’t start moving, I’m going to leave.”
An angry mood began to brew.
Suddenly a Hobby Lobby employee strolled sloooowww-ly over to one of the empty check-out stands. Everyone stirred with anticipation. Excitement grew as the employee carefully slid the cash tray into the register. The employee flipped on his check stand light and said, “May I help the next person in line?”
Like a cannon blast, the person at the head of our line shot toward the newly opened check stand in a blur of motion. A stampede ensued as customers standing in line ahead of me and behind me manically rushed to get into the new line. Jerry and I remained in the old line. We had a cart full of stuff, so it wasn’t as easy for us to move quickly to the new line. The chaos of the stampeding mob reminded me of Black Friday when someone gets trampled while others fight to get their hands on a $200, 92-inch TV.
Everyone seemed aware of their own frustration, and not aware of the feelings and needs of others. The saying “every man or woman for themselves” seemed to apply.
The remarkable thing about this: Jerry and I didn’t acquire any injuries during the raging rush of customers to get to the new line. Even better, we instantly moved to the front of the old line. Moments later, I’m paying for our merchandise (pinch me, pinch me! Am I really paying!) Customers who had waited in line ahead of me, continued to wait in the new line as Jerry and I merrily skipped out the door.
I’m sure everyone wanted to just pay and get out of there so they could get home and cook salmon burgers for dinner. (Oh wait, that was Jerry and me who wanted to get home and cook salmon burgers–which we did, by the way. Delish!)
Oh yes! Here’s what occurred to me as Jerry and I headed home.
When we have our own needs in mind above anyone else, we can get further behind than ahead. Like the people in the old line who raced to the new line. Take doctors, for example. They have the highest suicide rate of any other profession. They spend years and years in medical school, then end it all with their own self-prescribed solution? Did their focus of helping others get lost in their desire to get ahead?
Our human nature is to satisfy our own wants and needs. Maybe more times than we would care to acknowledge, we put ourselves first.
Perhaps it’s a desire to live a happy life that keeps us ever mindful of ourselves. I just read an article where the writer states “happiness lies in pizza, love and starry skies.” Maybe so, especially if it’s the Chicago-style stuffed pizza with crisp, but not crumbly, crust and meltingly soft mozzarella cheese.
However, in my life I’ve discovered something greater than chowing-down on pizza while contemplating the Big Dipper and other constellations. And in Arizona we can do a lot of contemplating because the stars love to dazzle desert skies.
My discovery is this: our true witness dazzles brightest through our service to others.
The irony is that the more we set ourselves aside to consider others, the more joyful lives we lead.
Give your hands to serve and your hearts to love. ~ Mother Teresa
Now the only way you can serve God on earth is by serving others. ~Pastor Rick Warren
***This article is an updated re-print from the Sista to Sista e-zine, published Dec., 2011.