I have a new favorite grocery store experience. It used to be the video carts where for a dollar you can have a noise-free cruise through the aisles while your children slowly grow less intelligent watching mindless programming in the cart below. (I only did this once. Okay, twice but it was late at night and I was taking pity on the kids…and myself. And the second time doesn’t really count because Maggie kept a running commentary going on the show, poking her head out every few minutes to let me know what was happening now, thus negating the noise-free aspect.) But the video carts pale in comparison with my new passion for the self-checkout lane.
There is something very existential about the process of ringing up your own groceries, while paid professionals laugh at your inability to get the bar code to scan. Does it get more American than this? We pay ridiculous amounts of money in order to “work” out, simulating actual physical labor rather than performing similar, calorie-burning tasks at home. We flock to restaurants serving “home-style” cooking rather than actually cooking at home. So why shouldn’t we pay for the privilege of figuring out how much money we owe the grocery store? Despite the obvious absurdity of the whole process, I can’t help myself. As soon as I begin to head for the front of the store, I hear that lane of self-determination calling my name, like the sirens calling Odysseus to his doom. I love escaping the judgment of some pimply faced high-schooler with regard to how many packages of Reese’s cups make their way into my cart. I love going at my own pace, organizing all my purchases by category without the weighty stare of the people behind me, urging me to mix my canned goods with my dairy. I love the feeling of accomplishment and independence the power of the self-checkout lane brings.
And isn’t that the draw for us all? Why do we pay someone to torture us with free weights and cardio rather than pull weeds and chase our kids around the yard? Because the one we do by our own free-will and the other is compulsory. Why do we pay inflated prices for mediocre food when we could make something tastier, cheaper and healthier at home? Because eating out is a “privilege” and making dinner is a chore (and you don’t have to do the dishes, which is pretty big, but nevertheless). And why do I choose to add twenty minutes to my grocery shopping trip rather than have someone more qualified and efficient ring up and bag my groceries? Because I want to do it myself, thank you very much.
It would be funny, if it weren’t so tragic. In our attempt to have everything on our own terms, the only person we really cheat is ourselves. I want to follow the example of Christ, living a life pleasing to God. So what do I do? In arrogance and pride, I pull myself up by my own spiritual boot-straps (which are neither sturdy nor dependable) and attempt it on my own. What I am called to is a life of submission and humility but somehow, my perverse human nature can even distort that into an unrecognizable life of self-reliance and failure. I think I am failing when I lack the fortitude to live up to His standards but in truth my failure came long before, in my lack of trust in the life, death and resurrection of my Savior. I want to gather my supplies, count the cost and pay what I owe when in fact, I don’t know what I need or how much it is worth or have anything worthy to give in return. So while this doesn’t mean I am giving up my independence with regards to grocery shopping, I am making an effort (through the grace of the Holy Spirit) to relax my hold on this stroll through the mall called life. It certainly seems appropriate to the season of Lent, when Jesus prepared to relax His hold on life itself for my sake and for yours. Who better to entrust ourselves to than the One who considered His duty a privilege and obedience an honor? Maybe we will find the same joy He found in the sorrow of humility.