Sitting in the front of his parents’ shopping cart, he was still hidden from my view behind the tall candy racks that separated our checkout lanes. And yet he was making his presence known.
“E-WAYNE!” he hollered at the top of his lungs. Again and again he bellowed his precious toddler mispronunciation of my name, as if there was some correlation between his decibel level and the speed at which I would appear. And desperately did I want to rush over and greet my favorite shopper. Not many customers come through the door calling for you by name, laughing at the sight of you and blowing kisses when they leave. But it’s this one that does that makes my job a joy.
It hasn’t happened without a lot of effort. Friends with his parents (my former favorite shoppers!) for many years, I’ve known him from belly to birth to big-boy-sitting-up-in-the-shopping-cart. At each stage his parents have extended their shopping trips to allow me a few minutes’ visit with their little man. I’m sure they must talk me up before entering the store so that he’s primed and ready when I finally spy him coming down an aisle. Even so, he becomes suddenly shy when we meet, hiding his face in his daddy’s shirt until the focus shifts away from him and our talk turns to other topics. A sudden giggle on his part at an expression on my face, and soon he‘s laughing and we’re buddies once more, blowing kisses unashamedly as he heads out the door.
The smile on that baby’s face could melt a heart of stone. All I know is that it’s surely worked its magic on mine. And so now I make a habit of smiling at babies in shopping carts. Getting them to smile back; that’s the challenge. Some I have to smile at long and hard, but in the end, perseverance is almost always rewarded with a grin in return. And I’ve found that I’m not alone in this fascination. I’ve watched the most sophisticated of coworkers throw all pride aside and practically jump through hoops to earn a sudden sunbeam from a little one passing by.
And isn’t that God’s desire, as well? He smiles at us, His children, from the moment of birth on, hoping that at some point in our existence we finally see His face in the love and blessings He pours out into our lives, knowing that once we do, we will never be the same again. From that time on we beam our response back to God, filling His heart with joy and the days we spend together in relationship a delight.
I remember the day it happened to me. Not only did I smile back at God, but I was also conscious that I couldn’t stop smiling at everybody else! My heart had been changed in a glorious moment of breakthrough, and it wasn’t a fact that I was able or wanted to hide.
And that’s part of God’s plan, as well. When a baby in a shopping cart finally cracks a grin in response to mine, the relative pushing the cart invariably turns to see what the baby is looking at. And so it is that when we respond in a positive way to God’s blessing on our lives, those around us will likewise turn to see what caused our reaction, perhaps eventually partaking in the joy themselves. No action on God’s part is wasted, but rather produces a domino effect on those we spend time with and love the most. Face it, if a yawn is contagious, how much more so is a smile! And there are those around us who would gladly trade a boring existence for the life of overflowing abundance that God promises to those who smile at Him in return.
Of course, a smile isn’t limited to an upturn of the lips. Any generous, kind or loving action on our part, even if it’s simply treating people with the decency and respect with which we’d like to be treated ourselves, qualifies as a physical grin that may provoke a positive response in the other person.
I haven’t been able to get a smile from every baby I greet, to be sure. And neither will everybody respond to God’s love. Sadly, some of those who do will eventually lose interest on down the road or become distracted by other lures in life. But never should we let the rejections of a few keep us from reaching out openly to those who may yet be desperate to experience God’s love.
As if in illustration of that last point, I realized recently that while my little buddy may still be my favorite, I’m no longer his. I’ve been replaced in his affections by a blonde beauty who carries him off to find stickers and free balloons while his parents chat with their many friends. But the other day his mother came into the store without the male half of the family, her baby daughter having made the transition from carseat-in-the-cart to front-of-the-bascart, sitting up proudly and looking around her inquisitively. And all of a sudden I smiled, knowing the joy in store for me as I embark on a mission to get her to do the same!
“…the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4 LITV)