I was in our local grocery store around lunch time recently and witnessed someone shoplifting. There was no doubt about it. Two young men were in the candy aisle and one lifted a bag of chocolate of some kind and then I thought I saw him tuck it into his sweatshirt but I couldn’t be sure. I watched as they walked away and at that point I knew, because there was no shopping cart and neither had anything in their hands. So I just watched them. And the friend glanced back several times to see me watching them and he looked very nervous.
I literally froze trying to figure out what to do. I’ll honestly say that one of the options that went through my mind was to do nothing. But that sure didn’t feel right. If I had had even a shred of doubt about what I had seen I think I could have talked myself into that option. But no doubt — he had taken it off the shelf, shoved it into his sweatshirt and zipped it up. And now they were bolting…slowly and calmly but definitely not continuing to “shop.”
If I confronted them, what would I say? They were young — early high school perhaps and didn’t look the least bit dangerous or threatening. I was given the opportunity for a teachable moment and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I wish I could say I prayed about it but I didn’t. However, I think it was one of those instances where God knew what I needed before I even asked. So I truly believe that what I did was a total God-thing.
I needed to find them first. I darted down the candy aisle, turned left in the direction they had headed and looked. No boys. Flew across the back of the store looking up each aisle. Pet food aisle — no boys. Paper goods aisle — no boys. Bottled water aisle — no boys. On to the frozen foods! Aha! I saw them just starting to go up the very last aisle in the store (ice cream aisle!) and so I pushed my cart up the parallel aisle to head them off at the pass. And it worked!
The alleged perpetrator rounded the corner and I approached him full on, looked him in the eye and asked very genuinely, “Can I help you pay for that candy you have in your sweatshirt?”
Life is filled with teachable moments. They often don’t come in the classroom or the sanctuary. We have to be alert to them and grab them when we can. Besides my “do nothing” option, my other initial thought was to haul them before the store manager and turn them in. But in this situation, that just didn’t feel right either. So I’m thankful that God placed a third option on my heart and in my mouth.
Are you wondering how he answered? He would not look me in the eye and just said, “I’ll put it back.” I said, “No, really! If you want it and you need money to pay for it, I’ll help you.” He seemed mortified! Then his friend came around the corner and I was a little more pointed asking him if HE had anything. He said he didn’t. I gave him a raised eyebrow and he asked if I wanted to check his backpack. Then I told him I believed him and let it go.
I don’t know if the young man actually did put it back because I didn’t follow him to watch. I decided to give him the space to “make amends” privately. I’m pretty hopeful that he did return it. He looked quite remorseful after our conversation. I’m also hopeful that they both remember what happened — and the gift they were given by GOD — and then make a better decision the next time the temptation arises.
Liz Perraud is the Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, a non-denominational Christian organization that works in partnership with local church leaders to build disciples of Jesus Christ through intergenerational relationships.