Practices of community

I regretted it as soon as the words were out of my mouth. People started to stare at me, but instead of calming down or apologizing I kept shouting angrily, frustration mingling with embarrassment. Here I was, a grown woman, yelling at a grocery store employee because a sign taped to the credit card machine said they weren’t allowing cash back. I really needed cash that day. It wasn’t to fulfill the demands of a ransom note or help a stranger in need. No, it was Farmer’s Market day, and I needed to be able to buy precious locally produced flowers, strawberries, and pizza.

How dare the grocery store refuse to let me get my own money out with my grocery purchase? How dare they change their policy without notice on the one day I needed just one thing to go right? Didn’t they understand I didn’t have a bank branch in town? Didn’t they know that my patience was shot and my kids were driving me crazy and I didn’t have any margins left for even the smallest thing to go wrong? How dare this woman, this Betsy person, stand in the way of my needs?! Couldn’t she see how stressed out I was?

I left the store on the verge of tears. I usually love shopping there. It’s small, but they have all my favorite brands. I know where everything is. And most of the employees know me and my kids. Normally I wouldn’t have been acting like an entitled crazy person, but on that day I lost all concept of decency. I walked out feeling terrible, and soon felt even worse when I discovered that the Farmer’s Market vendors all accepted credit cards.

The next day a friend posted on Facebook about her disgust with people who are rude to those in customer service. She had just returned from a trip overseas and spent time among people with far fewer physical possessions, and back stateside she witnessed someone in a store yelling at an employee for some completely ridiculous reason. She wasn’t talking about me but she might as well have been. I felt so small and gross.

When you live in a small town you can’t hide. It took me awhile to work up the courage, but I apologized to Betsy and have gone out of my way to be friendly when I see her, but it will never erase how I treated her. I tend to think of myself as a nice person, but when I’m tired and overextended I get to see the dark underbelly of my monstrous humanity. It’s a painful reminder that I need rest and a humbling (humiliating?) lesson on the danger of unexamined self-righteousness.

Similarly, since becoming a parent, I have regretted about 78 percent of the things I’ve said to my kids (or at least the way I’ve said them), but I also apologize and let them know that I’m not perfect nor do I think I am. I don’t regret that my kids are growing up with a real human as a mother, a woman with interests outside of housework, with skills outside of cooking, with passions outside of raising children. Someone who makes mistakes and asks for forgiveness. Even though I would rather every interaction were lovely and wholesome, my weaknesses and limitations make that impossible. Instead I embrace redemption over perfection.

Our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, and our churches should be safe places where we can live out our humanity amongst people who know and love us well. I’m taking a seminary class called Practices of Community, and we’re studying disciplines that any healthy community would be wise to employ, things like hospitality, truth telling, gratitude, promise keeping, forgiveness, and lament. What would our communities look like if we regularly engaged in these practices, both privately and publicly? No one can live completely without regrets, but we can admit when we’re wrong, learn from our mistakes, and ask for forgiveness. But I’m still going to try harder not to hurt people in the first place.

Rachel Womelsduff Gough and her family ditched the city for a patch of earth in the Snoqualmie Valley. Cheered on by her husband and two blonde babes, Rachel learns by getting her hands dirty, whether it’s gardening, chicken farming, canning, neighboring, or adventuring with soulmates in wild places. She can’t live without books, coffee, and mountains.

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