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Friday, June 03, 2005

Grocery Cashiers & Prayer

Some people call them checkout clerks, but their official title, at our current grocery, is cashier. They perform a vital service, presiding over the exchange of currency for food and other household items. Both our daughters have done it. One of our daughter's has a mother-in-law who made a career of it.

Our style is to shop often. Some people shop for groceries much less frequently. I marvel at their organization. We don't even try for once a month (or once a week) shopping. We live close to a grocery, and I go several times a week.

Fifteen years or more ago, it occurred to me that grocery shopping can be a ministry. I was seeing a lot of some of these people. Sometimes, they were obviously tired. Sometimes, they had to do heavy lifting, getting a bag of dog food or a box of beverages up to where the barcode reader could sense it. Sometimes they took the brunt of someone's general despair and bad feeling. Sometimes they made mistakes, or someone thought they did, and customers, threatened by having to pay more than they expected, reacted bitterly. In our area, most cashiers are students, often behind on their homework. Most of them are courting, or wish they were.

Cashiers don't get paid much. In our area, they often are expected to work long hours consecutively, but the weekly total is kept low enough that the employer isn't required to include benefits. Some of those not getting such benefits need them badly.

It's hard to establish a long-term relationship with a cashier. They work at unpredictable times, and they often quit, frustrated, or seeking some greener pasture, after a short time. (Sometimes they work for years.) But I can still pray for the ones I see, and, occasionally, for the ones I remember.

Our cashiers are usually identified by a name tag, and by a name on the receipt. It's easy to learn their first names. Sometimes, it's easy to strike up a quick conversation, without interfering with what they are supposed to be doing. I started asking questions. "Are you in school?" If so, "what are you studying?" "Any tests coming up?" Sometimes I would tell them that I would pray for tests, or occasionally other things, when I learned about them, or could see them. Usually they would say thanks. Once in a while one would mention something for me to pray for.

One cashier, from about 8 years ago, lived in circumstances that were obviously not ideal--her family's apartment was on my regular way from work, and I sometimes saw her there. She had a neighbor, or friend, or both, who was a no-good, according to my wife, who tried to teach him. She was probably from a broken home. She worked carefully, and followed all the rules. She was stiff, and hard to talk to. I talked to her less than to some others. I knew little about her spiritual or academic condition. She did say that she had some ambitions, perhaps beyond her capacity. I prayed, for what needs I could see. A couple of months ago, we were eating after church in a small Chinese restaurant. A couple with small children came in. They were dressed, and the time was such, that they clearly had been to church. I looked again, and suddenly realized that I was seeing this cashier again, after several years. I asked her if she used to work in the former grocery store in our town. She said that she did, and that she remembered me coming in to get bananas frequently. She told me that she had a responsible job at the hospital. My prayers, and her hard work and ambition, had been answered. She did finish high school, marry a good man, have a good family, have a good job, and was going to church. God bless her, and others like her--some haven't turned out so well.

May I have sense enough to know how to act, what to say, and what to pray for, in these brief encounters, whether they be one-time, or for years. God bless cashiers, and other such workers.


Anonymous said...

I am a part-time cashier and I appreciate your article and your prayer.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Anonymous, whoever you are, and God bless you, and my current crop of cashiers.