Smiling While Shopping at Walmart

It was mid-afternoon and I was pushing my grocery cart toward the exit of Walmart when a middle-aged woman entering the store flashed me a big smile. I suddenly realized that I had been smiling at some pleasant thought that played across my brain and she must have thought I was smiling at her. Or perhaps she was just saying I’m happy too.

My observation is that not much smiling goes on in grocery stores. After all, there’s a lot to think about while shopping, like comparing the costs of two brands of paper towels or two different grades of eggs, or checking the calorie count of the new whole-grain Cheerios. And while you are doing all this, another part of your mind has to be aware of keeping your grocery cart out of the way of other shoppers.

(Someone should do a study about smiles in a grocery store. What percentage of shoppers smile at fellow shoppers in any one afternoon? What is most likely to prompt smiles? Do people who smile spend more or less money on average? Some pollster could figure out how to frame the questions. Anyhow, news reports citing such statistics would be a welcome relief from the poll results for presidential hopefuls we are treated to daily.)

Maybe an additional reason I don’t smile enough when I work my way down a shopping list in the grocery store is that grocery shopping is a relatively new experience for me. I’m still awkward at it. I’ve taken it up only since retiring and I’m not as patient and discriminating about it as Kathleen is. I sometimes bring the wrong thing home (like apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar).

Back when I was an assigned pastor I had a self-imposed rule that I would not run errands like grocery shopping during working hours. Some of my pastor friends thought that was a bit too rigorous but I had a reason. During working hours I was on duty.

I knew that the high school principal couldn’t take time off during the day to slip away to a grocery store for a couple of items she forgot the night before. And the vice-president of the bank couldn’t slip out for half an hour to get a dozen eggs. These people were on duty. Why shouldn’t working pastors consider themselves on duty also, I thought?

It is true that a pastor’s work sometimes beckons during hours when others are finished for the day. Even so, it may not appear professional for a parishioner to see her pastor pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store at 10 a.m.

I connect my self-imposed regulation during pastoral days with a strong work ethic — not a slavish one, not a compulsive one, just a robust joy in making time count, and in letting my people know that I take my assignment seriously.

That same thought brings me joy in setting myself a working schedule during retirement years — though one not so rigorous — and that thought may well be why I was smiling while leaving Walmart.

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