I was a bad Samaritan

I was in Walmart last week, perusing the checkout lines to see which was the shortest. I had one item, just one…..a small alarm clock. Small so I can take it when I travel. Just one item….only $5.42. I was in a hurry, and pre-occupied trying to solve a problem about permeability in a coalbed methane well.

In the line which I selected was a gray-haired lady checking out. In Albuquerque lots of ladies over 50 no longer color their hair, which can be surprising to eastern ladies I have talked with. The checkout clerk had good hand-eye coordination, and she zipped those fruit and veggies through really fast. I felt I had made a good choice with this line.

However, when the tally showed up on the screen, the gray lady pulled out her checkbook, and I groaned. It takes significant time to write a check, and she did. Not only that, but a manager had to be called….more delay….. and it took a while for the manager to confirm that the lady’s check was not laundered drug money. I started wiggling my toes to lower my anxiety.

The gray-haired lady wandered off, and there remained just one person ahead of me and my alarm clock. She was short, young, no more than 25, and wore a wedding ring. She took out a credit card, and I smiled to myself…..much quicker than a checkbook. But then she murmured something to the checkout clerk, which I couldn’t hear.

But I figured it out, because the clerk slowed down her rapid scanning, while she peered intermittently at the cost tally……the customer was trying not to max out her credit card! I would have laughed had I not become even more agitated by this.

The scanning pace slowed to a trickle, as the cost of the goods got close to the credit card limit. But then the process stopped, with one item still to checkout (a parcel of tortillas). So near but so far! The two of them engaged in animated discussion, apparently a result of going over the card’s limit by $2.56 for a small jar of salsa, and the clerk not knowing how to undo this.

The young gal looked at me and smiled as if to say “I can’t believe this is happening”, but I was becoming upset and refused to look at her. I wasn’t about to smile and say something idiotic like “I understand….it happens to me all the time”.

I had now been standing in line for 15 minutes. In my exasperation, I pulled out a twenty, tossed it on the tray, and said rather abruptly to the clerk “Just take the $2.56 out of this, and add it to the cost of my alarm clock”. However, the young customer smiled at me again, and said she couldn’t have me do that. I explained that I was in a hurry, and there were other folks waiting in line behind me, and this would solve the problem.

About then another manager showed up, and he set about to figure it all out. He finally uncharged the $2.56 from the credit card, the Walmart store took back the salsa and the tortillas, and the young gal pushed off with her shopping cart.

I paid for my little alarm clock, and walked swiftly out of the store. The next morning I sat up in bed, wondering if I had embarrassed the young gal, and feeling bad about my behavior in the store. I realized I had acted like the bad Samaritan….too busy to try to understand the situation, and thinking only of myself.

I should have realized the young woman was short of money, and offered her $50. Now she might not have taken it out of pride, but if it was a genuine need (perhaps she or her husband was out of work) maybe she would have welcomed the offer. I asked for forgiveness from the Lord, and resolved to learn from my error.

There was some irony in the situation. Whenever there is opportunity, I tell people about my book* in which I devote a whole chapter to a scene where Michelle the coangel urges us to “Help someone to hope”. And I had just screwed up big time. However I intend to rectify that……next time I want to be a good Samaritan.

I once heard about a Good Samaritan test that was given to ten pastors. Five of them had a full agenda for the day, and needed to be very busy to complete it. The other five had some time and space. The testers set up an unexpected opportunity for each of the ten pastors separately to stop and help someone in need. You guessed it: the pastors who did not stop to help were the busy ones with the full agenda.

The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers….

“The benevolent person scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his deeds of justice and goodness and kindness and benevolence will go on and endure forever”. (2 Corinthians chapter 9).

* Hiking Toward Heaven

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14 comments on “I was a bad Samaritan”

  1. Marie says:

    Thanks for the example of how we all should respond to someone in need. I hope I will be more sensitive.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Well spoken Marie. That’s a good goal for me too: to be more sensitive.

  2. Christina says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself Ian. We all fall down from time to time. The most important lesson to learn is that you made a bad choice and have learned from it. I bet next time you will behave differently. There is scripture that says we could be entertaining angels unaware. Thanks for sharing with a sinner like me.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      An interesting thought of yours Christina that “We could be entertaining angels unaware”. If I had pulled up that thought, while becoming frustrated in the checkout line, it might have changed everything.

  3. Boris says:

    In my opinion recognizing the mistake is a big part of it’s correction. But there can also be another point of view: everything that happens to us can be viewed as our passage through the series of temptations from God, in which case not only does the result matter but also the outcome in a person’s mind as the person considers this result. At least I hope that God will judge us not only by our results or doings (which sometimes may be not so good), but also by our attitude to these results. Maybe it was a new spiritual God-lesson given to you (and by your post – to all of us readers).

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Very good points Boris. I especially love your thought “I hope God will judge us not only by our results or doings (which sometimes may be not so good), but also by our attitude to these results”.

  4. Jack says:

    Wow I know just how you feel. There have been so many times that I have been too focused on me and mine that I couldn’t see or think beyond me. Thanks for sharing .

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks Jack, for your honest admission. That’s impressive coming from a man who I regard highly for being aware of the needs of others.

  5. Garrick says:

    Thanks for sharing this experience Ian! The older I get the more impatient I seem to become. While not condoning it I can relate to feelings of impatience. The trouble is when we’re in a hurry every little inconvenience seems to get magnified out of all proportion. The best answer is to remind myself that God is in charge, and while I might have the tendency to overreact to a situation, if instead I can see life from God’s perspective that changes everything. I liked to remind my children when they were growing up that “five years from now you won’t even remember this”…. or… “there are a billion people in China who are oblivious to what you’re going through at this moment”.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks Garrick for a useful tip that will help me…that I should try more to view life from God’s perspective.

  6. Roger Hartman says:

    To The Gray Nomad…..”Well done thou faithful servant……Enter into your reward”. You passed the acid test…..It’s about being genuinely sorry, confessing and asking forgiveness….and then it’s removed from the list of debts you owe. The Lord works in strange and wondrous ways. Who’s to know but that the Lord somehow made it up to the girl as a result of your tender confession. Now put it to bed, because God forgives and forgets.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks Roger for your comment. I am intrigued by the possibility you mention that the Lord may have made it up to the young woman. Good thinking.

  7. Nicida L. Maerefat says:


    Thanks for the touching story. The good thing is that you realized what you had done later. Life challenges us everyday.  It is not easy but we really try to do our best and that is what counts.

    Take care.


    1. IanPalmer says:

      I am thankful Nicida that God “pricked” me after this event. I want to be open to that, and to recognize my shortcomings. When I pray the Lord’s prayer, I sometimes pray that God will make me more aware of my sin, and he certainly did on this occasion.


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