My trip to the grocery store began innocently enough. It was a busy time of day, right before supper, so the aisles were filled with shopping carts and kids as many parents tried to make a quick stop at the store. As the lone cash register lane got longer and longer, the woman behind me heard another line was opening up and asked me if I wanted to go first since I was next in line. I thanked her and made a beeline for the next available register.
It soon became apparent that no one was coming to open another register, and the kind woman behind me apologized and told me to come back and get my original spot in line. I had my three children with me and was eager to get home after a long day. As I began unloading my groceries on the original register, a third woman noisily began to berate the woman behind me for what she felt was cutting in line.
As a lifelong avoider of conflict at all costs, the stress level in me instantly began to rise. It was clear there was a misunderstanding, and I went out of my comfort zone to apologize to the angry woman and explain that the woman behind me had just moved out of line in order to let me back in.
It was then that expletives and harsh name calling began. Not toward me (or by me) but toward the original woman who had tried to help me. Things escalated from there, and my stress quickly turned to what I believe was righteous anger. It was as if things came into focus, and I saw the situation for what it really was. One human being felt it was OK to treat another human being like she was nothing more than a dirty piece of trash. In fact, that’s exactly what the first woman was called, just with more expletives. I knew I had to speak up.
“No. You cannot talk to her like that. She is a human being! She deserves to be treated with dignity! Her children are here, and my children are here, please do not speak like that. She was simply trying to help me.”
It was then that the angry woman turned on me. My children heard the venomous words spewed toward their mother and the first woman. I remained calm but was thankful a security guard stepped in and asked the woman to leave. My oldest daughter was visibly shaken and close to tears.
The entire front of the store observed the exchange. Heads were shaking as the woman left. We all tried to proceed with normalcy. But I could not shake the feeling that I needed to speak up again to the woman who had verbally been attacked. The woman tried very hard to contain her emotions, but I knew she couldn’t possibly be alright. Her face was covered in some kind of birthmark that no woman would want to look at in a mirror each day. She looked tired and haggard as she held one child in her arms. Her husband didn’t speak up or defend her. I turned back to face her and said, “I am so sorry that woman said those terrible things to you. They aren’t true. You are a human being created in the image of God and should not be spoken to like that. Thank you for helping me.”
We ended up walking out to the car behind her and her youngest child. I said “thank you” one more time as I pushed my cart of groceries and kids past her car. She turned to look at me, and I could see tears were streaming down her face.
Embracing the teachable moments
The kids and I quietly unloaded our groceries. When the doors were closed, I began to help our children process what had just happened.
“Why did I tell the angry woman to not speak like that to the woman who was trying to help me? Why is it not OK to treat another person like that?” It brought tears to my eyes to hear all three children answer, “Because they are made in the image of God.”
You see, lately, we have been trying to help our children, ages four, six and nine, understand this very concept of being created in the image of God.
- When our daughter uses her words to hurt our oldest son, we remind her that he is a human being created in the image of God. He deserves to be treated with dignity.
- When our sons fight over a game or a toy, we remind them that their brother is more important than an inanimate object. Their brother is a human being, created in the image of God.
- When we watch movies or shows that show a person being cruel or mean to another person, we point out that every human is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
- When we’re around the dinner table, we sometimes talk about treating the elderly and those not yet born with the same kind of dignity that we should give to each other.
I believe this random altercation at the grocery story helped attach roots to these seeds of truth we’ve been trying to plant in our children. And it also became a teachable gospel moment. While my oldest accused the angry woman of acting like a five-year-old (and she was), I was able to talk about how I often act selfish and angry. “I am no better than that woman who was mean to the other woman. She needs Jesus to save her from her sins just like I do,” I told my children as we drove out of the parking lot. We all left the grocery store a little shaken, but I left with a deeper faith in the God who finds value in every human being created in his image.
I encourage you to use today—and every day—to teach your children about the dignity of all lives. It is a gospel issue. Teach them to see that all human beings are worthy of respect and all human beings are in need of the wonderful saving grace that comes from Jesus alone. It will change how your family interacts with others, how you speak to your children, and it will remind you of your own need of the gospel.