How to Deal with Our Afflictions

Suppose a social worker interviews fifty people from a fine apartment building. He asks each person if he or she is dealing with any sort of affliction. We would expect a “yes” from most if not all of them.

The word affliction is defined broadly, for example as “a state of pain, suffering, distress or agony.”

Some might mention a physical affliction: complications of diabetes; macular degeneration; or perhaps arthritis, hearing loss, an autoimmune disorder, gluten intolerance, seizures, cancer.

Others might add a material affliction: a lost job combined with an empty emergency fund, hail damage to a car, or a flooded basement.

Yet another group might contribute examples of psychological affliction: a failed marriage; phone calls ignored by an alienated child who has in effect disappeared; the stress of an abusive or narcissistic boss.

Affliction comes to us all in one way or another over time. Nobody escapes, including those who appear to have it made.

The classic sufferer, Job of the ancient Biblical account, knew about mankind’s pervasive afflictions. Chapter 5, verse 7, asserts: Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. And consider a New Testament sufferer, the Apostle Paul, who shared with the Corinthian church, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, a catalogue of his many sufferings for the gospel: shipwreck, undeserved whippings, three times beaten by robbers, in peril of being murdered, and on several occasions confinement in jail or under house arrest for months for no good reason.

What enabled Paul to successfully fend off gloom, self-pity, and despair when so many afflictions settled on him? He shares his secret in the same epistle.

Earlier, in chapter 4, verses 16 and 17, he shared the big picture about suffering. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [afflictions] are achieving for us an eternal glory which outweighs them all.

Note three ways in which Paul reduces fear and supports the certainty of victory whether in life or in death.

First, he sets, side-by-side, two processes that Christians experience at the same time. One is that time is taking its toll on all of us and we are “wasting away.” This sobering reality is visible to each of us as birthdays mount into multiple decades. But Paul adds that, at the same time, inwardly we are being renewed day by day (16). The anniversaries that tick off our years also can deepen our character and our lives in Christ and awaken our awareness of a radiant future.

I heard a former bishop of the Free Methodist Church, Rev. William Pierce, then in his eighties, tell a large congregation at the 1947 General Conference, “Every day I live I am one day nearer to eternal youthfulness.”

In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul gives us a second secret to a life that can triumph in the face of mortality: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. There is so much to be seen (and desired) in our world of material abundance. Fixing our eyes on the unseen — regularly looking “beyond” to the next world — fuels our confidence when serious adversities come calling.

Third, in verse 18 Paul introduces two words to underscore the assurance that we can triumph over our afflictions: current troubles, he says, are “light” when compared to our eternal future, and they are “momentary” by the same comparison.

The Apostle Paul faced his afflictions bravely and with strength — with a transcendent view not only of the current world but also of the world to come. His words and example encourage us to do the same — enabled by the abundant grace of God!

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Photo credit: Alon (via flickr.com)

Have You Said Amen With Fervor Recently?

I like the word Amen and wonder if we use it in Christian worship as often and with as much intensity as we should.

After all, it is used in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments 100 or more times.

Amen is a strong word of affirmation. It is like a verbal stamp of approval or a solemn declaration of truthfulness. It means “So be it” or “May it become true.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:7-37 we see how the term was used in worship. David is now king. He is putting the country in order. He has constructed a tent to give cover to the Ark of the Covenant. Structured worship is being revived. Offerings are restored, and musicians are on hand.

A great gathering of the nation had been called and the celebration is underway. An extended prayer in poetic form is the climax of the occasion. David assigns Asaph and his company to lead in the praise.

The specially composed psalm is filled with declarations that elevate emotions. It begins, Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done (16:8).

Such a prayer would certainly introduce a review of restored blessings. More exaltation of God follows: Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice (10). Yet again: He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth (14).

Again and again the words of the priest declaim, Our God reigns! Emotions of praise have become strong.

The congregation, not the priests, conclude the prayer. Chronicles tells us in verse 37 that all the people said Amen and Praise the Lord. I can imagine the sound of thousands of inspired voices rending the air with that response: Amen and Praise the Lord!

They had focused their praise on the Lord who ruled over all the earth. They had also affirmed the truth about the Lord and his world. And then … they said, Amen! — May it be so!

The New Testament reports no similar liturgical event to this one convened by King David. But in the New Testament there is also abundant use of the word Amen.

For example, the word is repeated in the Gospel of John twenty-five times. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus introduced his teachings with a declaration of their truthfulness: Verily. Verily I say… (In the King James Version this is the translation of Amen, Amen.) Jesus over and over again affirmed his own teachings as the truth that is eternal.

Paul also included the word in some benedictions: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36).

In my opinion, we need more Amens from the body of Christ’s followers during worship in this fallen world. In both Testaments it is uttered as a strong and solemn response to words of divine truth. The substitution of applause is second-best, in my view. What better way to respond to truth, than to say Amen! when it is uttered?

In heaven the word will ring out often. I imagine a throng of countless resurrected believers. They reach far beyond sight. Perhaps Moses or Isaiah or someone we worship with on Sunday will speak words of truth and the throngs in response will fill the heavens with the one word: Amen! It IS so!

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Photo credit: Matt (via flickr.com)

On Remembering the Horrors of Holy Week

The celebration of Easter is over, but the events that created Holy Week never cease to confront the human conscience. “Christ died for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,” writes Peter (1 Peter 3:18).

The cross, some say, was a preposterous event, but Christians know it was for their redemption. It is the core of our eternal rescue. We know that “Christ died for our sins,” and that is worthy of heart-felt meditation the whole year round.

Paul writes of the gospel’s seemingly surreal claim: Christ died according to the Scripture; He was buried; He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures; He was then seen alive by well over 500 witnesses — including Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Our Lord’s death was real as was his resurrection.

In his book The Cross the late John R. W. Stott reviews the various Christian symbols to show which of them was most focused and compelling for the early Christians. Eventually, he notes, the cross crowded all others out to become the symbol that dominates the preaching of Christ’s sacrificial suffering across the centuries and to this day.

The cross of Christ is often named in Christian hymns, printed on church literature, worn pinned to lapels, stamped on church pews, placed above church entrances and chiseled into gravestones.

The gospels record the various events of Holy Week and in doing so hold before us two fundamental truths: First the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Our sins put Christ on that cross. Second, the immeasurable wonder of God’s love for sinners. The sinless one offered himself as a sacrifice for sin that we might be spared our penalty and set free. This we are called to believe and proclaim.

As we leave the celebration of Holy Week behind I lay out here prompts for occasional recalls in meditation. My outline scans the core of the gospel story and will help us remember what immediately preceded our Lord’s brutal trip to his cross.

Sunday: On this day Jesus entered Jerusalem cheered by crowds with the mistaken notion that he would use his great powers as a Jewish king to drive out the Roman occupation (Matthew 21:1–11; Luke 19:28-44).

Monday: Jesus cursed the fig tree. This has been called an “acted parable” of judgment against the nation that had failed its divine assignment (Matthew 21:18,19).

Tuesday: His return to Bethany and his long discourse on things to come plus the response his followers should be prepared to make (Luke 21: 5-36).

Wednesday: Likely a day of silence; but his enemies were not silent: The ruling Sanhedrin plotted to have Jesus killed by the Romans (Matthew 26:3-5; Luke 22:1-2).

Thursday: Preparations for his observance of the Passover meal and at the same time he is instituting “communion” in connection with the last supper (Matthew 26:20-35; Luke 22:14-30).

(Good) Friday. This is the day of our Lord’s crucifixion. He is betrayed and arrested; He goes before Caiaphas (John 18:19-24) and before the full Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71); before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). He was on his cross from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (John 19:16-37); then hastily buried (Matthew 26:57-61).

Saturday: The Jewish Sabbath — a day of frightened silence.

Sunday: Jesus’ resurrection appearances (Matthew 28:1-20). The day of astonishment and joy and the rebirth of hope.

To keep faith focused properly on the day of Resurrection, we need to return often in our Bible reading to the special week that led to Christ’s sacrificial ordeal.

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Photo credit: rabiem22 (via flickr.com)

How Family Values Dispelled the Shadows

On Tuesday, March 17, Kathleen and I got into the carefully packed Honda van of our daughter Carolyn and son-in-law Doug and headed south from our driveway in Brampton, Ontario. Daughter-in-law June followed close behind in her car carrying breakable items.

Kathleen and I were being driven to our first overnight in our new dwelling in Mississauga, Ontario — Walden Circle Retirement Centre.

This was according to a plan that had gradually formed out of many family conversations. Our children had done their research. Jan, Robert’s wife, and her siblings had recently moved their 92-year-old father into a similar community in Kingston run by the same organization; his move had proved successful.

During the prior several months, our children had discussed the possible move among themselves, and with us. They believed the time had come for us to give up the responsibilities of maintaining our home. Their recommendation was persistent but not pushy. The decision would be ours, they said, and if we chose to remain in Brampton, they would do what they could to help us keep up that living arrangement, though this did not appear to them the better option.

As we traveled southward along the busy highway — minutes behind the moving van carrying some of our furniture — we talked freely, though with periods of silence when it seemed a hundred thoughts jostled one another.

There is in all of us, to be sure, an age-related lack of appetite for major change, and especially so at age 94, the age my wife and I have reached. And there is less energy for the hundreds of decisions involved in selling a home and moving. We testify that to time-weary seniors it all seemed a daunting assignment. Why not rest in place?

But in discussions our children assured us that they would take over the whole momentous task though relying on our counsel for details. Their assurance that they would take over the sorting, dispersing to family, selling, and moving us was no empty promise. Three children and their spouses turned out to be an enterprising team. The energy they expended was amazing and tireless.

When we finally agreed to “take the plunge,” our daughter, Carolyn, became the manager of the project. She lived near us and ran countless errands. She and Doug, with initial input from Robert, helped us select and interview realtors, took us to appointments, and accommodated the questions of others who came and went. Doug was the packer and advisor to keep us intact with the world via cable and internet.

Daughter-in-law June volunteered to find the buyers for whatever furniture and furnishings were to be sold. She had skill and experience in this sort of task. As a bonus she bought and assembled by herself a simple transparent glass-like desk for me to use in our new setting.

Our son Don found professional movers, oversaw one or two electronic glitches with grandson Jonathan Gonyou, took on the task of dispersing my many books and helped get the house ready for closing. Robert and Janice had found the specific Mississauga community that would suit our needs and were invested in the details of the move by telephone.

All of this energy and consultation diminished our apprehensions a little at a time and smoothed our path. Praise God for their every contribution. Our God is the giver of every perfect gift right down to the energy to attempt hard tasks. Facing the task pushed us toward shadow land, but family values, in full display, have dispelled the shadows.

Memories that Awaken Great Gratitude 

Kay and I look back on our 72-year journey together with wonder and amazement.

For five of our first eight years I was a full-time student and she, a teacher, was a staunch supporter of my ongoing education.

Both aged 21, Kathleen and I took up residence as newlyweds in a one-room apartment across the Queen Elizabeth Highway from Lorne Park College, a denominational school west of Toronto. It is no longer extant, but its mission has been redirected into the Lorne Park Foundation.

I was an LPC student, attending for two reasons: to catch up on some needed academic credits, and also to take voice lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, eleven miles into the city.

After six months as a married couple I was invited to work part-time for the college while still taking classes. The back seat of our rusted 1933 Ford easily held everything we owned to make the relocation a half mile or so along the QE going west. That introduced us to the ground-floor apartment below the boys’ dormitory.

Kay and I agreed that I would have to finish at least a bachelor’s degree after leaving Lorne Park College. This would be necessary in order to feel qualified for any kind of a ministry assignment, whether as a singer (my ambition at the time) or youth speaker.

Kay, who came from a family that valued education, shared my concern deeply, so we began looking hopefully at Free Methodist denominational colleges in the USA.

Then, something unusual happened. Early in August a former LPC classmate named Jim phoned to say he was taking his girlfriend back to Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, and invited me to go along.

It would be a 1300-mile round trip — two days to travel and one day on campus. Kay approved the idea, and I gladly accepted the offer.

The Greenville campus was deathly quiet that August of 1951, but with gentle promptings from a professor friend, Watson Tidball, I fell in love with the place.

Before leaving to return to Ontario and with no way to run this by Kathleen, I made a snap decision that we would return to GC a few weeks later. I felt so sure of her likely response that, before leaving the GC campus to return to Canada, I rented an upstairs apartment for us.

I arrived back from the visit to announce enthusiastically to Kay that we were going to Greenville. This sounds impulsive, I’m sure, but if decisions are judged by their outcomes it was one of the best of our shared life.

At first Kay was understandably startled by the thought of such a sudden shift, but she quickly agreed to the plan and pitched in to prepare for the move.

Everything seemed to be in place for going except a financial plan. My tuition would be covered partly by a scholarship from Canada. But finances for basic living were another matter. In the late 1940s money was scarce even for the best of planners and hardest of workers.

But I thought that in the Greenville area I would be invited to sing or speak in churches or youth groups just as was happening in Ontario. I learned too late that it would take a few months to become known in a new area. We would be nearly destitute during those first few months.

Nevertheless, we sold our car and packed all our belongings in a second-hand steamer trunk, sending it on ahead by rail. We said our farewells and, with our three-year-old daughter, Carolyn, and our yet-to-be-born second child, Don, we rode a Greyhound bus the 200 miles to Detroit where we bought a used Ford and drove the additional 400 miles to Greenville in Central Illinois.

We arrived in Greenville just after the noon hour. The apartment was awaiting us — unfurnished. In top gear, by nightfall I had bought a used refrigerator, bed, dresser, and kitchen table and chairs — all second-hand.  Watson and a friend of his lugged the big items up the outside stairway into the apartment for us.

Two years later and two months before graduation another surprise burst upon us: The Dean of Free Methodist students at Asbury Seminary, Dr. Curry Mavis, was on the Greenville campus and sought me out to tell me of an available student pastorate that would make a seminary education possible, culminating in a Master of Divinity degree. He was urgent. Up to that moment, Kay and I had not thought of seminary training as in any way possible.

Carrying “our” precious bachelor’s degree and now three young children (Robert having joined us six weeks earlier), we moved to Lexington Kentucky, 300 miles to the southeast. There we managed to begin our seminary experience while living in two rooms of a grand old, until-then vacant house that was being restored into apartments (with no indoor heating except the kitchen oven as cold weather began to threaten).

Four months in that building plus two more moves into low-income housing saw our little family cared for while I shared rides for the twenty miles to the seminary three times a week for three years. Kay’s unwavering support and care for the children enabled me to complete three years of seminary work and graduate better prepared to understand the gospel in greater depth and proclaim it while caring for God’s people. My graduation was a hallelujah occasion.

At age 94, we look back with amazement across the decades, still rejoicing at the providences that opened before us, as they outweigh by far the inevitable hard times and disappointments that turned up often enough along the way. We give hearty thanks to God for his mercies and feel deep gratitude as well to family, teachers and professors, church leaders, parishioners, colleagues, and friends who have cheered us on to a fulfilling life of pastoral ministry.

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A Moving Experience

Son Don was kind enough to send this out to family and friends this week, and I thought I would share it with you, as Kay and I get settled in our new surroundings.

This note is to let you know about our parentsrecent move 40 minutes away from their home in Brampton, ON, to an apartment in the Walden Circle Retirement Community, Mississauga. The apartment includes a main room, a bedroom, and a den. Currently, their food is brought to them, because, courtesy of the Coronavirus scare, and the fact that they have come from outside, they are in isolation for two weeks. (I joked with them that they were under house arrest like Saint Paul in Rome, but with better room service.) 

My siblings and I are pleased that Mom and Dad are now in a safer and less isolated place. After their incarceration,” they will be able to take part in many activities and meet new friends. There is even a kitchen area where Mom can bake her wonderful bread, if she so chooses. Dad continues to work on his weekly blog, justcallmepastor.com, and both he and Mom keep in touch online and by phone with their children, seven grandchildren (plus six more by marriage), and thirteen great-grandchildren.

This move brings Mom and Dad full circle. Their first home after their wedding in 1947 was one room over a garage in nearby Port Credit, across the QEW from where they are now. Dad was attending Lorne Park College, a Free Methodist Bible school/high school. From Lorne Park they moved to Greenville, Illinois; Wilmore, Kentucky; New Westminster, BC; back to Greenville; Toronto; and then Brampton. Furthermore, the chair in Wesley Studies in their name at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto is funded by the Lorne Park Foundation, which is what the school became after closing in 1966.

Mom and Dad have had several health challenges over the past few years but did extremely well to live independently in their own home up to 94 years of age and are looking forward to getting to know their new community.

Some Counsel Regarding Covid-19

Our doctor son, Robert, has written an email to us about the novel Corona virus (Covid-19). It contains some good counsel, and, with his permission, I pass it along to you. I send it with prayers for all who suffer from this crisis, whether from anxiety, actual illness, or the stress of taking care of those who are ill.

Dear Mom and Dad (and family),

First of all, please don’t think me panicked or crazy.” We are in the Lord’s hands, and the hope is that, in a few weeks, the rate of new cases will have slowed. Still, the future is unknowable, and so discretion is the better part of valor… With this in mind, permit me a comment or two encouraging a bit of wisdom and hypervigilance. After all, many of us are older,” and we have some health conditions to boot.

As you know, the first thing for a people group to try when a threatening virus is identified is containment. In other words, identify those infected and all of their contacts and quarantine them, hoping to keep the disease from becoming widespread.

Containment is no longer possible here. This is because there are so many unexplained cases without recent travel or exposure to someone who is ill that the virus must be considered to have escaped” into the general population. And there is no herd immunity” to this virus since it is new.”  

The next strategy therefore is mitigation. That is, trying to avoid a dramatic spike of cases that overwhelms the medical system, causing shortages, for example, of ventilators for the gravely ill. Mitigation not only aims to reduce the height of the spike but also to spread the cases of infection across a longer time span so that needed resources can be cycled into use across time rather than all at once.

Possibly the most powerful means of mitigation is exaggerated hand hygiene. Another is self-imposed social distancing. That means actually staying six feet or more away from others when appropriate, but also avoiding crowds. The incidence curve in a population is really flattened and broadened if the population practices these things. And it is important for young people to practice this even if they feel no personal threat because the disease is routinely so mild for them. Young people who feel fine can spread the virus to their community, parents, and grandparents.

I’m not thinking the situation is all that urgent (at least for the moment) for us who don’t live near a cluster of cases. Don’t let me make you crazy… But it is projected that the number of clusters will increase quickly in the next few weeks. Consider that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife now has the virus. So do Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia. Apparently, there were exchange students who jumped” / disobeyed quarantine restrictions and spread the virus into the Australian population. And President Trump and Vice-President Pence had dinner a few days ago with a man who has fallen ill. He was sitting right next to President Trump. (The president did get tested, and does not have the virus.)

My point only is that the fewer people we come into contact with, the less likely we are to contract this illness. Obvious measures (which we are already taking, particularly meticulous hand-washing and avoiding touching your face) include:

  1. No handshaking. Elbow bumps at most.
  2. Stay six feet or more away from people when possible when out in public.
  3. Stay away from anyone you see blowing their nose (even though this is not a major symptom of Covid-19) or especially if they are coughing.
  4. Sanitize carts at stores (if you must go there) and be extremely aware of your hands and where they have been. Sanitize hands very frequently especially when out and about. Probably six times during/after any necessary shopping visit.
  5. Consider having on hand a week’s worth of canned or frozen food. And, yes, you can easily live on buttered pasta or oatmeal and canned peaches for a few days so no need to empty out the supermarket.
  6. Consider just staying away from any group activities. That actually includes church! And hospitals and primary care doctor’s offices. How about we ALL move to the basement!
  7. Humor has a role, even if the gallows variety.

Again, we of all people should not panic, because, to paraphrase the song slightly,We know who holds the future, and we know who holds our hand.”  

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The Power of Prayer

I am sorry not to have a new blog post for you this week. I have just been discharged from Brampton Civic Hospital, where I was treated for a virus and pneumonia. I am glad to be home and expect to make a full recovery. Lord willing, I will have a full post for you next week, but, in the meantime, you might want to think about these words from three great thinkers and church leaders:
“God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”
— John Wesley
“Pray, and let God worry.”
— Martin Luther
“The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.”
— Saint Augustine

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John Wesley’s Adversity Training

Some years ago I was thinking about how adversity can produce character, and particularly “grit.” One example, though couched in a larger passage about judgment, comes from Isaiah 30:20: Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 

My mind jumps here to John Wesley, 1703-1791, a man of extraordinary strength and persistence I had been reading and writing about at that time.

I began to review what prepared him to lead with such perseverance and conscientiousness in the widespread ministry he was thrust into later in his life.

Consider first his education. There were the five years of excellent home schooling under the watchful eye of his mother, Susannah. Then there were six years at Charterhouse school. Finally there were about five years at Oxford University.

The grim experiences he had at Charterhouse may be one key to Wesley’s future competence and capability. Charterhouse was a well-regarded school for boys in London. One hundred years earlier a man of great wealth had established the school so that select boys could get the best possible education there in preparation for university.

There was no money in the Wesley household to pay the tuition for such instruction, but Samuel Wesley, John’s father, managed to persuade the Duke of Buckingham to nominate John. So, before he was eleven, Wesley left the well-regulated and prayerful environment of the Epworth rectory (parsonage) to enter the tumult of a public boarding school. W. H. Fitchett writes that “the Charterhouse of that day was a school with great traditions and a decent standard of scholarship.”

However, there was one feature of this institution that leaves modern students of its history perplexed: the practice of high-handed student-on-student food theft. When the rations were given out at the cook house, the older and stronger boys took the meaty portions from the smaller boys. It was a daily experience. During those years Wesley practically lived on bread.

Fitchett writes: “A boy trained in the severities of Epworth parsonage, however, could easily survive even the raided meals of the Charterhouse School.” But what were the officials of this great school thinking in not stopping the thefts? It is hinted that such treatment developed humility or self-restraint. More likely, if one responded to it nobly, and without descending into thievery oneself, it developed a toughness of character, the ability to make do with what was available and to fend for oneself without the benefit of warm and nurturing guardians.

Wesley himself mentions another potential benefit of his time at Charterhouse. When his father sent him to the school he gave him instructions to run around the school’s large playing field or garden three times each morning. In other words, to stay strong and active. Wesley obeyed and later wrote that he believed (and we might at least in part disagree) that this exercise and limited diet contributed to his sturdy constitution as an adult.

Many years later, when Wesley was deeply involved as leader of the Methodist movement, he experienced all sorts of adversity. He faced mobs, endured storms, traveled tirelessly mostly by horseback, wrote copiously in defense of the Gospel and for the instruction of new converts, and often preached as many as three times a day.

His own opinion was that the ruggedness and deprivations of his early years — including Charterhouse — had made him equal to such a demanding life.

Re-post: An Exchange of Smiles 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 and she must have thought I was smiling at her. Or perhaps she was just saying she was 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 whole-grain Cheerios. And while you are doing all this, you have to make sure your grocery cart doesn’t get in 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 this was 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?

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 to parishioners that their pastor is pushing a shopping cart at 10 a.m.

The context of my self-imposed regulation during pastoral days was my strong work ethic — not a slavish one, not a compulsive one, but one exercised with a robust joy in making time count and in letting my people know that I took 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 may well be why I was smiling as I headed out of Walmart.

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Photo credit: Rupert Taylor-Price (via flickr.com)