Last night, the night before Thanksgiving, I was at the local grocery store with my Mom and Sister.
We pushed our full cart of Thanksgiving ingredients toward the checkout lines when one of the clerks led us over to the 15-Items-or-Less line.
“Follow me over here. You can get in this line.”
At first we looked at each other like, “Seriously? That’s okay?” Then quickly decided “Okay, she said we could!”
But that didn’t keep me from feeling hot eyes on the back of my neck from customers who got in line behind us with two water bottles and some toilet paper.
My immediate thought was to turn around and apologize for “how this looks” and that so and so who worked here gave us permission to get in this line. I turned to my sister and casually talked through my thought process, to check if my thinking was unreasonable. “Is that weird?” I wondered out loud.
She thought for a second, smirked, and said, “Huh, that wouldn’t be my first thought at all.”
So why was I so concerned? Why did I feel the need to give a preemptive apology, even before I knew what the people behind us were thinking?
Let’s walk this back to the real question… what was I afraid of?
I’ll tell you: being thought of as wrong, selfish, or entitled for getting in a line that was clearly designated for someone else. But why did I care what strangers thought of me?
I’ll tell you: I didn’t want to be seen as “one of those people” who doesn’t give a fig for the rules, and does what she wants.
At its core, it was the fear of being seen as something or someone I’m not. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of not being trustworthy, good, or right.
This pattern of preempting response is longstanding for me. I’ve always tried to be ahead of the curve; anticipate needs before they reared forward to hurt or haunt me. I thought it was just the need to people-please (which I’m sure is part of it), but this time it seemed to reach much deeper.
Anticipating the needs or concerns of others can be a good thing in situations where people need help. But when we function this way normally and in most situations, it can create a pattern of unhealthy self-denial, hurt our sense of self worth, and diminish the promise of who we are already.
The truth was, the grocery store clerk gave us permission to enter that line with our overflowing cart of Thanksgiving goodness. Why would anyone else be entitled to that explanation? She looked at the other lines and saw fit to move us to an open line. For her own reasons, she knew this decision would help the store function better.
We can often feel guilty for the blessings we already have:
- Permission to move to the front of the line
- A sweet gift from a generous friend
- A second chance when we did nothing to deserve it
Who is anyone else to say that a gift is unworthy?
If they weren’t there at the conception of this decision, they would only have a partial, unfinished view of this process. They may assume that we were selfish people, but that would be their opinion based on limited facts. And even if they jumped to judgement and accused us of something underhanded, would their loud voice entitle them to the actual truth? No.
We knew the truth.
In the same way, God has given each of us a specific mission and calling. We hear and follow His leading in the quiet places of our time with him, or through the words of trusted friends, and we walk in that direction.
He says “Follow Me over here. You can get in this line.”
Wow, thank you, Jesus.
He gave us permission. Permission to be who we are, right where we are.
We could spend our time worrying about being wrong, being thought of as selfish, or taking what’s not ours, or we could accept what is and be grateful.
In His sovereign plan, He has a much wider view, and sees the needs of everyone. He knows what He’s building in and through us – when to keep us back, and when to move us forward. But we still have to accept that permission and walk that direction.
If someone were to ask why we were in that line, it would still be a choice to provide a gracious answer. But simply put, “we were given permission.”
What has God given you permission to do today? Let’s stop believing that we also need the approval of others to accept the free invitation from a much higher and generous giver.
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