“Again, you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” Jeremiah 31:4
Our gray shopping cart made its way through the large supergrocery store. One daughter in pink rubber boots was safely tucked into the cart. The other daughter, also sporting pink rubber boots, trailed a few feet behind. I kept up the internationally-known Mommy patter of consulting the children as we shopped: “Well, let’s get cottage cheese. You like cottage cheese, right? Darling, what about yogurt?” If you have children under five, you will know what I mean: every move must be articulated. Loudly.
We made our way happily picking up the sublime (Madagascar Vanilla Cookies) and the slightly ridiculous (vegetarian hot dogs. No, they don’t really taste very good). As we trucked through the store, I remembered my eldest, always keeping her within site and stopping when she needed to catch up. All was well until we reached the checkout line and ran headlong into the grumpiest of checkout clerks. Ever.
In Jeremiah, the Lord records some beautiful words to describe his beloved Israel, from whom He is separated. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” (Jer. 31:3) God wishes not to be separated from us; it is his deep and ardent desire that we should not be separated. But, we do frequently (and under our own choosing!) become separated from God. Just like my daughter, trailing behind me in the store, we can become transfixed by something deliciously naughty or shiny and bright. We don’t plan to stay there long, just a sec, perhaps, but stay we do and then we look up. What do we do now? The separation is scary and it hurts.
Our grocery clerk was clearly put out by our recycled totes (“But we’re saving the Earth!” I wanted to protest) and his extreme displeasure was uncomfortable. You know how when someone is barely veiling their anger? Being the friendly, sort, I tried to start a conversation based on his name, which was also the name of a beloved family member. My pleasantries were met with stony silence. We finished the transaction and got away from his line, fast.
I generally walk away from occurrences like that one a bit bewildered. It’s all about my feelings and how wronged I was. Then I feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit prodding me gently to consider the other person’s life. Perhaps the grocery clerk’s wife is in the hospital. Perhaps he is close to losing his home. And then, as I considered his angry behavior, something like kindness crept into my heart. He was older, perhaps even retirement age. Were these his golden years, standing behind a counter all day and having to ring up organic yogurt tubes? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an honest job, but my mind wondered, “What if?”
We are all at times the grumpy grocery store clerk, aren’t we? When life is beating us down, when things are going in reverse from goodness, we can lash out. But we can also be the person on the other end of the transaction—whether it’s at school or work or even in our own marriages—who can listen and choose to offer small kindnesses. To not be offended. To take the spotlight off ourselves and consider that there’s more to the situation than we can see at present.
God’s sweet words to Israel give a beautiful taste of the goodness to come after restoration. There will be food! and dancing! and wine! Don’t forget the tambourines, too. Joy is coming. It’s dancing over the mountain like a loud and roaring party of thanksgiving. Pick up your tambourines. After all, where do you want to be? Come away and dance with God. He’s the life of the party and he’s crazy about you.