When Daniel and I walked into the grocery store the other night, we were just expecting to pick up a few things for dinner. We weren’t anticipating so much drama.
When we checked out, the couple in front of us had two huge tubs of fried chicken, the aroma of which wafted through the checkout area, setting our stomachs to rumbling. After all our items had been scanned and bagged, we noticed that the couple remained standing there, apparently still waiting for their chicken.
“Where did you put their bags?” the cashier asked the guy doing the bagging, a gangly teenager with a mop of blue-streaked hair.
He gave her a look of befuddlement. “You mean the chicken? I gave it to the woman in front of them.”
“Well, go to the parking lot!” she barked. “You’d better find her before she drives away.”
As the bagger dashed out of the store, Daniel and I looked at each other, trying our best not to split at the seams. We couldn’t decide what was funnier—the fact that the couple had patiently waited all this time for their fried chicken, which by now was probably halfway across town in an unidentified SUV, or the fact that at this very moment some woman was driving away wondering why her car smelled like KFC. I wished I could have seen her face when she arrived at home to find precisely 48 pieces of hot chicken in with the rest of her groceries.
But our laughter evaporated the moment we exited the store. There was the bagger, standing in his shirtsleeves despite the freezing temperatures. He was shouting into the night air and throwing punches at the concrete post outside the store.
Daniel, who possesses the handy skillset of being able to strike up conversations with strangers and being able to calm potentially volatile situations, didn’t hesitate. “Hey,” he said to the boy. “Are you okay?”
“I’m just about ready to sack this job.” The kid swung another fist into the air.
As the conversation progressed, we found out the store was understaffed that day and the bagger felt like he couldn’t keep up. “And when I’m under pressure,” he said, “I do stupid things like this. I might as well quit before they fire me.”
Fortunately, among his other talents, Daniel also has the gift of encouragement. “You know, they need you in there. If you leave, what will they do without you? I know you can go in there and finish well tonight. It’ll work out.”
Before long, our bagger friend had calmed down and was ready to face the disgruntled cashier. I don’t know if he ended up quitting or not, but before he headed back in the store, he managed a small smile. “Thanks,” he said, nodding in Daniel’s direction.
As we made our way to our car, I couldn’t help but wonder how different that guy’s evening might have been if we’d just avoided the awkwardness and headed straight to our car.
To encourage literally means to pour courage into someone, and that’s exactly what Daniel did: he gave that boy the courage to turn around and go back into the store. But something I’d never considered much before was that encouragement also tends to require courage on the part of the one doing the encouraging. Daniel was only able to pour courage into this guy because he was courageous enough to enter his world.
Sometimes courage-pouring means stepping right into the middle of awkwardness when it would be easier to go our own way.
In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis extends this sobering charge about the way we treat the people we come into contact with each day—at work, at home, even at the grocery store. Since people are made in the image of God, he claims, they are no mere mortals. They deserve courage-pouring—all of them.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
I confess that as Daniel and I drove away, we shamelessly peered into the window to find out what happened with the chicken. The last we saw, the couple was going back for two new buckets of fried chicken. We can only assume the other woman called a bunch of her friends over and had a party.
Encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
—1 Thessalonians 5:11