paper or plastic? [the grocery store ministry]

Written by Sheila Lagrand

Sheila lives with her husband, Rich, and their two dogs (J.D. and Doc) in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, boating, and most of all, spending time with her children and grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn't understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.

May 22, 2011

My husband Rich and I exchanged apprehensive glances as we stood in line at the grocery store checkstand. Behind us, a man flung his order onto the conveyer belt: two rotisserie chickens, a basket of strawberries, a loaf of French bread, a large bottle of cheap wine. His brows met in a deep furrow above his nose. His lips pressed together, the corners downturned. His shoulders tensed, nearly hiding his neck.

Turning to him, I smiled and said, “How are you today?”

Rich and I watched as his shoulders relaxed, his lips formed a smile, his brow smoothed. “I’m fine, thank you,” he responded.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” I asked him, holding his gaze.

He glanced out the window. “It is,” he agreed.

A few minutes later, as we loaded our purchases into our car, he emerged from the store, offering a cheery wave as he climbed into his pickup truck.

“That was something,” Rich said. “His whole attitude turned around!” I mused over my husband’s words. I’d done such a small thing—offering a love-flavored morsel of my faith—but the result had been instantly visible.

Thus began my grocery store ministry. I’ve played peek-a-boo with restless toddlers as their weary mothers completed their purchases, retrieved items from high shelves for short people, and transferred groceries from cart to trunk for a man on crutches in the parking lot.

One memorable Wednesday-night-before-Thanksgiving, I prayed, briefly, with a distraught woman while standing in line at the grocery store. I’d noticed something sad, some want, in her eyes. So I asked the simple question, “How are you tonight?”

As I studied her expression, she poured out a short story of broken-heartedness, of disappointment and betrayal, of love gone sour. When she’d finished, I said, “I’ll pray for you.”

She said, “Can we pray together? Right now?”

I worried that stalling the line in the pre-holiday pandemonium might incite a riot. But I could not imagine refusing this broken woman’s request, so I took her hands in mine, and right there in the express lane at Ralphs, we prayed. Six or seven shoppers waited in line behind us. The checker and bagger waited.

When we had finished, I nervously searched the faces of the people queued up behind us, expecting a silent reproach, or even a nasty comment. No one complained. A few people smiled. The checker smiled. It was a regular happy-party right there in the midst of the busy grocery-shopping hours before Thanksgiving.

Then I turned to the woman who’d asked for prayer. Tearfully she said, “Thank you! Thank you! I feel so much better! Thank you!” My knees shook a little as I realized the effect of my small, stumbling prayer. I’d asked God to comfort her, and she was….comforted.

That event changed me forever. My arthritic middle-aged bones are unlikely to dig water wells in Ethiopia. But I’m called to serve all the same—to be His hands and feet in a broken world. I’ve staked out the lowly grocery store as my mission field. Every week when I push my cart through that automatic door, I’m walking through the servants’ entrance.


  1. Sue

    Thank you for posting this!  For years I was heavily involved in Women’s Ministry – my passion, and then, one day, I found myself resigning from everything to take care of Dad and Mom, which my husband and I still do.  I have been asking the Lord for a ministry I can do from home.  Yes, taking care of Dad and Mom may be considered a ministry, but I also consider it a command and a responsibility.  Getting out to the grocery store is sometimes my highlight of the week!  How much more enjoyable it will be, looking at it as a ministry.  Thanks again! 

  2. Sheila

    Thanks for your kind words, Sue! I’m blessed to know you found something helpful in my post.  

  3. Nancy Franson

    Amen, sister! I remember vividly the day I was standing in the checkout line where my daughter’s high school friend was just being trained as a cashier. Someone who had cut himself way too short on time berated her horribly because she was taking so long with the order. I decided right then that I was always going to be the most pleasant customer who ever goes through the supermarket checkout line. I’m so proud of these young people who are willing to do the long, boring, repetitive work, and you never know how desperate the financial need is for some of them. And, it seems that there’s something about supermarkets that brings out the worst in all of us–we all seem so frazzled and impatient and short on time and, unfortunately, those frustrations seem to get dumped on one another as we try to buy our daily bread and milk. Each person we meet presents and opportunity for us to be a blessing or a frustration. I hope your piece encourages many to choose to be the blessing.

    • Sheila

      Thanks, Nancy. I love this in your response:  “Each person we meet presents and opportunity for us to be a blessing or a frustration.” Such truth!


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paper or plastic? [the grocery store ministry]

by Sheila Lagrand time to read: 3 min