“Excuse me” I said to the back bending over the display of children’s pajamas. No response.
I’d been standing for several seconds behind the busy mom’s shopping cart. Her two cute kiddos sitting in the cart smiled at me and I smiled back with my “universal grandma grin.” I cleared my throat again, a little louder while trying to gauge if I could squeeze by.
The shopping cart was smack in the middle of a narrow gap between two shelves of clothing, a long walk when you’re at the end of the day. I waited a bit more, then gently took hold of the cart handle and lifted it over about 3 inches so I could push by, winking at the big brown-eyed preschoolers as I went.
“Next time say excuse me!” I heard in a harsh tone.
Startled, I replied, “I did” as I continued walking away.
“Not all of us have perfect hearing,” she snarled. When I didn’t respond the ranting began, “That is so rude. You should NEVER touch someone else’s cart…”
I turned around and opened my mouth to tell her that although I was sorry she was having a bad day she wasn’t allowed to take it out on me. What came out of my mouth surprised us both.
“Will you please forgive me for touching your cart?” (Where did THAT come from?)
“WHAT?” she said, as if I’d said another word that begins with the letter “f”.
Between the two of us I honestly don’t know who was more shocked, but I think it may’ve been me. I was surprised that the mere act of apologizing and trying to make things right could elicit such anger.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been. After all, asking for forgiveness is not something our culture is known for. My church had recently finished a sermon series entitled “Forgiveness—The Real *F*-Word”. For five weeks we’d heard about forgiveness, how to forgive others, forgive ourselves, forgive God, and about asking for and receiving forgiveness.
If that weren’t enough, during the same period I’d taught two Sunday School lessons on forgiving to 3-5-year-olds in our Pre-K. Trying to teach such a big concept to little kids challenged me to get to the heart of the matter. It certainly made me examine my attitudes about forgiving and being forgiven.
I think that all I’d heard and studied must have been mulling in my mind all this time and at the proper time, with no warning to me, the truth that God wanted me to practice just popped out.
“I need to ask you to forgive me,” I said to my fellow shopper. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful by that. I did something that upset you and I’m sorry and I hope you will forgive me.”
The unhappy lecturer continued, “I was worried about my children, you could’ve run off with them. You should never touch someone’s cart with their children in it!”
“I know. You’re right. I shouldn’t have touched your cart. I’m sure you were scared. I have 7 grandkids myself. I’m sorry that happened and I need to ask your forgiveness.”
By this time the woman was utterly confused and more than a little frustrated. No matter what she threw at me I responded the same way as sincerely and meekly as I knew how, by telling her how sorry I was and how I hoped she’d forgive me.
After listening to her for a while longer I finally felt it was time to walk away, leaving her still angry (at me? at the world? at life?) I said once more I hoped she’d forgive me and that I’d learned a valuable lesson from her. She walked away muttering under her breath. But at least she didn’t say she wouldn’t forgive me. I think she was convinced of my sincerity, but was at a loss as to how to react to being asked to forgive.
This was one of those random incidents that get under your skin. I’ve thought on and off about it ever since, starting in the parking lot, asking God “Where did that come from?” I’m glad I asked for forgiveness, I know it was the right thing to do, but it was so unexpected by me and so unappreciated by the one offended.
I’ve come to the conclusion that God had one short lesson for me that day-- Ask For Forgiveness. Don't defend, argue or justify. It really doesn’t really matter if the actions are innocent, if you've offended someone just suck it up, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. That’s it. Just that simple. Don’t make it a big deal, just humbly ask the person offended to forgive you for the offense. I learned long ago at a Bill Gothard seminar that even one percent of the blame was enough to ask forgiveness for.
I wish I had a heart-warming ending for this little shopping trip. But I fear the heart that I offended is still cold. But we serve an awesome God. Maybe, somehow, God will use the fact that someone took her concerns seriously and tried to make things right, to speak to her. That is what I’m praying He’ll do.
Lord Jesus you alone know what it takes to soften a hard heart. In your mercy and grace, please call this woman in from the cold to the warmth of your love.