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Chris Carpenter
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Ten Items or Less

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - Like many Americans I struggle with a condition that often makes me sick to my stomach. Just the very sight of it make me feel nauseous, causes my blood to boil, and keeps me up at night. There is nothing I can do to control it. Sometimes the condition builds up over a period of time while in other cases it just sort of happens. Nevertheless, I am a man conflicted. Should I speak up and let other people know about the pain they are causing me or should I just bottle up my emotions and let them spill over another day.

I am speaking of course about pet peeves. We all have them. For some it is the way your co-worker always interrupts you while you are talking. For others it is a cell phone ringing in church. As for me, I have several but the one I would like to focus on today is the “Ten Items or Less” line at the supermarket, department store, or hardware emporium.

If I polled 100 people and asked them what a “Ten Items or Less” sign means, I would venture to say that roughly 95 percent would answer that it indicates you should only get in that line if you have ten items or less in your shopping cart. Store management will tell us that it is designed for convenience, a mechanism to get people in and out of the store in a timely manner. Why then do people abuse the rules?

Allow me to illustrate.

Recently, on the way home from work my wife asked me to stop off at supermarket to pick up three items for her, count them … one – a pound of bacon, two – a carton of eggs, three – a loaf of bread. Once in the store, I quickly found the items and headed for the “Ten Items or Less” check-out line. On my way, I noticed an Easter candy display. On impulse, I reached for two chocolate eggs, count them, one … two. Simple math tells us that I now had five items in my possession, well within the ten item limit.

Rounding the corner I discovered two people were already in line. The first person in line had only a case of soda … one item. However, shopper number two had a cart that appeared to be at least a third full. Buzzers, whistles, and horns immediately began sounding off between my ears. This shopper was not in compliance with the ten items or less rule. Without hesitation, I counted each and every last item in her cart. Twenty-seven. I counted again to be sure … 27.

I sighed heavily as I contemplated what to do next. Since I am the type of person who sees everything in black and white I decided I must confront this young woman and let her know the error of her ways.

“Excuse me, ma'am.”

She did not answer but I pressed on anyway.

“Ma'am, I just wanted to let you know that this is the “Ten Items or Less” line. The regular lines are over there,” I said, pointing in the general direction of aisle seven.

She looked in the general direction I was pointing but did not say anything. In fact, she turned away without even thanking me for helping her get a better read on just how much stuff she had in her cart.

For the next 30 seconds I stared intently into her cart with furrowed brow trying to figure out how she could possibly think she had less than ten items. Even if she was counting the four stray cans of soda as a six pack and her three heads of lettuce as one salad, we were still talking about 22 items.

I couldn’t stand it any longer. The pressure to right what I saw as a wrong was melting the chocolate eggs in my hand. I would tell her again but this time I would be a bit bolder.

“Ma'am, by my count you have 27 items in your shopping cart, well beyond the legal limit for this grocery store.”

I certainly got her attention this time. She wheeled around to face me, a look of steely resolve in her eyes.

“Yeah, so? What’s it to you anyway?”

Taking a step back, I responded, “Well, I think there is a reason why the store put up a sign like that. They are trying to create an area that doesn’t bog down for folks like me who only have a few items. It’s so we don’t have to wait forever behind those who have hundreds of dollars worth of goods.”

“Take it up with the cashier, not me.”

Before I could respond she turned around and began placing her items on the conveyor belt. This lady had guts ... and two cans of nuts. She was placing all of her items on the conveyor belt when the cashier was just going to tell her she had too many and must go to another aisle. I was brimming with great satisfaction from what was about to take place.

My prideful thoughts were quickly dashed when I heard the cashier say to grocery etiquette offender number one, “Will that be cash, credit, or check?”

I can’t believe it! The cashier is allowing this … this … woman to pay for her 27 items even though she was in violation of one of the most basic codes of shopping etiquette. I suddenly felt a knot forming in the pit of my stomach.

I couldn’t even bear to look at this woman. She had been brazenly dishonest but even worse, the cashier had allowed it. The “Ten Items or Less” sign hanging prominently above my head wasn’t worth the formica it was printed on. A rule had been made, it had been broken, and the person who was supposed to be policing it had looked the other way.

When it was my turn, I asked the cashier why she had allowed someone with 27 items to pass through. She simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “It happens all the time.”

“It happens all the time.” Does that make it right? Unfortunately, what the cashier said goes hand in hand with others like “It isn’t hurting anyone else,” or “Everybody’s doing it.” These all too familiar sentiments go a long way in dismissing bad behavior but they are a far cry from being honest.

This rationale is used to compromise the truth. Popular standards of honesty differ from God’s expectations. He demands that we think truly, live truly, speak truly, and that we avoid any appearance of dishonesty. Our standards are stated clearly and specifically in His Word. His rules protect us from wrong decisions and actions, which could cause us hardship and despair. God’s love for us motivates us to obey Him, and His love in us makes obedience possible.*

Obviously, having too many items in your shopping cart is not going to change the world but it is important to remember that God did not create the Ten Commandments for our convenience but for us to live completely by them. In other words, we should not be living our lives by “Ten Items or Less”. We should be living “Ten Items in Full”.

“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” -- Leviticus 19:11

* Portions contained within this article from the Transformer Study Bible.

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