My sister told me a story that I can’t get out of my head. She was paying for her groceries at Wal-Mart. She began asking the woman scanning her groceries about her Thanksgiving plans, her work schedule, and the frenzy of shopping around the corner that would take place at Wal-Mart.
The woman began to share about her personal family situation- divorce, split families, a 44-year-old single mom. Because of the volume of business at Wal-Mart, she would be required to work over the Thanksgiving holidays. She would be working Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Her 14 year-old will sit at home by himself while she works Thanksgiving Day from 10-7. She has no other place for him to go. She requested off, she’s worked there 21 years. The answer was no. Mandatory for all.
I’m not upset at Wal-Mart, or any store for that matter. They didn’t create this. We did. Our materialism. Our focus on gifts. Our clinging to traditions. That is what has created a scenario for the stores that places them in a position to capitalize on the opportunity.
In my mind, I’ve created a picture of this woman and her son. I see her 14-year-old like I picture my Jacob and my heart breaks. God won’t let me shake this image I’ve painted. For this particular woman, maybe I’m off. Maybe I’ve romanticized her story in my heart. Maybe not. Regardless of this one story, I think God won’t let me shake it because our world is full of stories like this we fail to see.
I tend to live in my own little bubble at times. Thankful for my little world, focusing on the blessings that abound in my home. But there is a larger world outside my little bubble that breaks my heart when I allow myself to go there. It’s easier to live blind to the hurting world around us. I’m certain that is not the way of Jesus.
Right now I’m sitting in a cozy guest room at my mom’s house in Georgia. I’ve enjoyed days of lounging, laughing, and feasting, surrounded by the love of family. It’s easy for me to focus right here. To thank God for these blessings. But He keeps bringing back the picture of this woman and her son. He loves them as He loves me.
Thanksgiving Day on social media we will see feeds filled with beautiful family photos. The captions will say “Thankful” “Blessed” “Family”. I will love scrolling and seeing these beautiful pictures filling my feed. But there are others all around us who don’t have the picture perfect looking family. Many will feel thankful still. Many will not. Many will feel blessed minus the Rockwell portrait, many will not.
I was reading in Matthew this morning as I reflected on how thankful I am today. Thankful for my family near and far. I read this and then God brought to mind the lady I’ve never met from Wal-Mart.
46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers[a] stood outside, asking to speak to him.[b] 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
I don’t know if this woman is a believer or not. I don’t know anything about her. But I know that she has captured my heart.
Until 4 years ago, one of my favorite days of the entire year was Black Friday. Every year as long as I can remember I shopped on Black Friday. Either with my mom, sister, or friends. I rarely missed one. Thanksgiving night we’d scour the sale ads, make our strategic mapping of the course, then spend an entire day shopping.
Three years ago Seeking Christmas was published. I thought I was writing Seeking Christmas to help families discover the true magic of Christmas by giving tools to create traditions that focused on what Christmas really means. Today I look back and see that Seeking Christmas changed me. It was a pivotal turning point. The changing process wasn’t overnight. It’s been over years.
Part of why I wrote Seeking Christmas was to counter the commercialism and materialism of our culture. It creeps into our families in an effort to entangle us. While I’m a huge proponent of traditions, I also am a fan of breaking traditions and creating new ones. Sometimes we cling to something because we believe we can’t break tradition. It’s what we’ve done forever, so we must continue on. When we stay in that place, we miss out on creating more meaningful moments. The clinging to tradition can be stifling. It can choke out what might have been.
The year Seeking Christmas was published I attempted the traditional Black Friday shopping, but my spirit was unsettled. Each store I went into I saw all that is wrong with Christmas. The carts filled to overflowing with gifts, the maxed out credit cards, the pushing and shoving to make sure you get the item you came for with no thoughts to the others wanting the same item, the honked horns at stolen parking spaces. For the first year in my shopping life, I left Black Friday without buying a single thing. And I felt sad. I was sad at what had always been that I’d not clearly seen. I was sad that I spent my morning out supporting the very thing I hoped to change within families.
The year after Seeking Christmas was published, I broke my Black Friday tradition for the first time ever. The reason is that it didn’t coincide with the heart of my message. How could I write about celebrating what Christmas is truly about and then spend a day shopping and feeding the very thing that is wrong with Christmas? That year we created a new tradition instead of going out shopping, we would stay in creating. We crafted and made handmade gifts. Each year since has been a little different.
I thought I would grieve the giving up of Black Friday. I thought I would feel I was missing out. The opposite happened. It freed me. Over the past several years, we’ve focused less and less on material gifts. Yes, we give our kids plenty of gifts, but we give more experiences than toys. We give them gifts of opportunities, memories, and trips. These usually aren’t bought in the store.
Five years ago you never would’ve convinced me I would ever give up Black Friday shopping. Like many things, when we feel the prick of God in our spirit and we act on it, He blesses us.
I’m not saying Black Friday shopping is wrong. But there are times God will poke us and He is calling us to something that will cause us to walk against the current we are living in. That is what He did in my life and continues to do.
God continues to poke me at things that others freely enjoy and He gives me the option of listening to Him or following what others seem free to do. I’ve found that my soul rests still when I listen to the poke of God. When I resist the poke and go along with everyone else, the gratification is temporary. And the poke comes back.
This Thanksgiving would you consider the lady in Wal-Mart who is required to work because the demand for store hours is such that she will work 3 straight mandatory days? If there is any way you can not shop on Thursday or Friday, would you kindly consider it? Our dollars send the loudest message of all to stores. When we spend, we tell them we like what they are doing. When we don’t spend, we tell them we want to see change.
Family is the heart of civilization. Family is the beautiful gift our Creator gave us. What is most important is family. And according to Jesus, our “family” isn’t only by blood or marriage relations, it’s by those who follow the will of the Father.
To honor family, we must honor all families. To cherish our own at the sake of another seems selfish. To spend our money on a day or days that others are forced to work when they should be home loving on their own family seems unfair.
If God has poked your spirit over Black Friday shopping, may this be the year you follow the poke? It’s only two days of prolonging the purchase. Waiting until Saturday. Delaying our desires for the sake of another. It seems small and insignificant. Like our few dollars make any difference. But they do. I believe God multiplies our offering of restraint to bless the families at work on these days from our spending.
Here’s a radical idea. Maybe a new tradition is going out on Black Friday, but not spending a dime. And all we do is go to the people, the ones working, and bless them in some way. Pray with them or over them. Hand them a gift, take them a plate of food, give them a gift card. If you love being out on Black Friday, but you have felt a poke, maybe it’s time to create a new tradition.