I have this strange ability to fade into the background when I don’t want to be bothered. It’s part gift, part curse, and partly just my personality. I like to watch people, don’t like small talk, and am uncomfortable talking to strangers unless I have a reason to. I think that’s why the man who was shoplifting at Starbucks this morning didn’t notice me.
I think he came in about the time I did, though he could have been there a lot longer. He walked around the store a lot, so I could have thought he’d just gotten there because he wasn’t sitting down. I got my drink, sat down in an armchair, and pulled out my Bible and journal. I wasn’t more than 5 minutes into my devotions when I saw him take several CDs off the rack and stuff them under a backpack in a chair diagonally across from me. He then sat down in a chair at a different table and read a newspaper, and didn’t even glance at me.
I felt suspicious immediately, though I didn’t quite feel like I’d seen enough to accuse him of anything. Several minutes later, he repeated his actions, this time with DVDs. He couldn’t get his stack to balance under the backpack, so he furtively stuffed them into it, then returned to the table where he was reading.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t concentrate on my Bible. My heard was pounding. I felt like he was most likely shoplifting, but I knew I couldn’t prove that. For all I knew, he was going to go to the register before he left and spill his backpack out so he could pay for everything inside. I wondered if I should talk to him, but I was afraid. He didn’t exactly look like a thug, but he was significantly larger than me and male. If he wanted to hurt me, he probably could.
I ended up watching him some more. I watched him pretend to read the paper. I watched him wander around the shop and bother the barista for a pen so he could take down a number from the ad board. I watched him stuff more DVDs into his backpack, put it on his back, and walk out the door.
I ended up telling the barista, who got his manager, who went outside looking for the guy. They spotted him at a bus stop, but couldn’t get there before he got away. I don’t know if I did the exact right thing; maybe I should have said something earlier even though I couldn’t prove absolutely that he was going to steal the items in his bag. Maybe I should have said something to him. But I did a right thing. I was shaking so hard after I did it that I could barely hold my pen, but what I did was right.
After taking a few deep breaths and writing it out a bit, I went back to my Bible. My devotional text for this morning was Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1. I was struck by Mary’s trust that God, in all his strength, was on her side, even though she was humble, poor, and weak. She didn’t try to make something happen. She didn’t feel frantically like she had to fix her situation. Instead, she trusted that, in spite of the probabilities for hardship and danger, God would come through for her.
As I reflected, I realized the vast difference between Mary and this man who was shoplifting. I don’t know his situation, but it seemed quite possible that he has kids at home who want gifts and doesn’t have the money to buy them anything this year. There might not even be any conflict in his soul about the situation, given the planning that seemed to exist behind his actions. However, instead of trusting like Mary, he is trying to change his situation all by himself. He may not know that he has the option to trust, to believe that the God who put his might behind one poor, pregnant girl who should have been stoned to death and instead lived to birth and raise the King of Kings could be on his side, too.
How often am I like this man? More often than I’d like to think. How much do I buy into the idea propagated by our culture that I need to make good things happen in my life, that if I’m unhappy or if circumstances aren’t just as I would have them, it’s because I don’t believe in myself, and I just need to go out and change that belief for everything to work out right? Mmmm…rather more than I’m probably even aware of. But Mary chose the better path. She chose to accept her circumstances as real, take on the tasks that were put in her hands, and let God take care of the rest. She rested, acting when called to and leaving the rest for Him.
Open hands, Lord, give us open hands. Give us hearts that let go, that grieve and accept, that live in the truth of your love and grace even as we live in the truth of our present circumstances. As we remember your coming this season, let us truly accept you as Lord of heaven and earth and Lord of the present moment. Let us not limit you to where we are comfortable having you, but invite you to fill our hands as you see fit. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.