This post is “confessional”. And as you read my story, before you think “Wow, she’s being hard on herself,” I want you to know I share it because it is a relatively “low risk” story, and I can laugh at myself as I tell it. And don’t worry. It has a relatively happy ending.
Earlier this week I was talking with a colleague about a tough time he was going through. I was in full pastoral mode. I really did care about what he was saying and what I might be able to do to help. So at the end of our conversation, after a prayer, I said again as I was leaving, “If there is anything I can do to support you right now, please ask.” And he, knowing I was on my way out to run some errands, said, “How about a Snickers?” We laughed.
Then off I went, down 45th taking care of business, and then up again, heading back to work. As I passed the corner drug store I remembered my colleague’s request. I turned in, and went straight to the candy aisle. There they were- the Snickers bars. The “regular” ones were just under a dollar and the really big ‘king sized” ones were almost two. When did candy bars get so expensive? I remember when they were a nickel and a dime, respectively. And I still expect them to be about fifty cents.
Well, I don’t know what happens to my mind at moments like that. I don’t know how I lost my bearings and forgot about why I was there and what matters most and the true value of things. All I know is that my eyes drifted from the “expensive” Snickers to the Hershey bars that were “on sale.” If I bought a Hershey bar, I would save forty cents! “What a bargain,” I thought. “How much more appropriately priced,” I thought. So without any more thought than that, I grabbed the cheaper candy. I bought three different versions of the Hershey, as a matter of fact, so my colleague could choose the one he wanted and I could have one (or two) as well.
It wasn’t until I was out of the store and walking back to the church that I came to my senses. As I pictured myself presenting the candy to my colleague, I remembered that he hadn’t asked for a Hershey bar. He had very specifically asked for a Snickers. And I, for the sake of forty cents, had not only conveniently changed his request from the candy that wasn’t on sale to the candy that was, but was out of time now to go back and make the better choice.
My sister calls this “false economy.” That’s the illusion that I am preserving something important when I actually might be sacrificing something even more important in the process. I know the “false economy” in this story is relatively minor. The truth is that my colleague does love most kinds of chocolate, and he was quite happy with the dark chocolate and almond bar he ended up with. As I gave it to him, and confessed my whole cheap truth, we both laughed.
But I am still reflecting on it. Without much thought I changed “I’m willing to do anything” to “I’m willing to do the cheapest, most convenient thing, and hope you will be grateful.” I was distracted pretty quickly and easily from my concern for someone else to my concern for myself. And it took so little (forty cents, for heaven’s sake) for me to make that switch.
So this simple story has me wondering where else in my life, especially in things that matter deeply, do I unconsciously make that shift? Because I know I do it myself, and we do it as a society, way too often. There is no such thing as “cheap compassion,” just like there is no such thing as “cheap oil.”
I believe the first step in changing this pattern is to notice it. When we can do that lightly and laughingly in our candy bar moments, then maybe we can do it more seriously (and still gently, I hope) when we see ourselves falling for any “cheap” lie. I find I do it best in community, when there is someone to confess to, someone to help me notice what matters most, and someone to laugh with me. The church, at its best, can be just this kind of community. Because that is the place where I find folks who will listen and laugh and then, in community, work with me to live more deeply into the real and sacred economy of investing ourselves in what matters most.