“May I help you to the car,” stated the young woman as she finished sacking my groceries. In a very polite manner she made clear to me that this was more than a passing gesture. She desired to carry my groceries to the car and return the shopping cart for me.

I politely responded that I appreciated the offer, but I was happy to carry my groceries. Further, I would return the cart, the second part of the job that she had implicitly offered.

As I walked to my car, groceries and shopping cart in tow, I passed several other stranded carts. People had left carts in the most unusual places… parking spaces. Though the store had placed corrals to place the carts, people had chosen to reject the kind gestures of the workers and had further chosen not to use the corrals. Instead, they had inconvenienced other customers and the store workers by cluttering the parking lot.

I also observed another young man pushing several carts toward the store’s entrance. Initially, I thought this was an employee picking up stray carts. But as we came closer, I noticed that this was a customer who had chosen to return several carts. He was not only returning his cart, but was returning others’ carts.

After I delivered the groceries to my car, I began to return my own cart. The manager of the store who was doing rounds in the parking lot greeted me. “Thank you very much for shopping with us,” he said. “Let me return your cart.”

In the late 1800s, Charles Sheldon wrote a novel that became quite popular, In His Steps. Therein, members of a prominent church in town for one year were challenged by their pastor to ask of themselves prior to doing their daily tasks, “What would Jesus do?” The resultant actions created quite a stir in the town. People were changing their actions, even simple tasks similar to the task of returning shopping carts. But they were also making major changes in the life of the town, as they were doing their best to follow a Jesus model for life.

What does returning a shopping cart say?

It says something about how we view the young worker who asked us to carry our groceries. By returning the cart, we are saying that we care about her work and want to make her more successful. Returning the shopping cart also says that we want to provide a quality experience for others. Failing to return the cart, however, says that we do not care about her work and would actually like to see her do additional work. Because of our failure to return the cart, she will have to leave her task of caring for customers so that she can corral carts.

Think back, how many times have we seen an empty parking space, made a move toward the space, and then discovered that a cart is using the space? Probably too many to count. How then does this small, inconveniencing decision reflect our individual dispositions?

To return to Charles Shelton’s question, choosing to return a cart is the answer to a small question, but in many ways it expresses how we will answer more difficult questions. Just as posing the question, “What would Jesus do?” shaped the behavior of an entire community, so too should the notion of choosing whether or not to return a cart. We should not have to say “Jesus would put this shopping cart in the corral” in order to motivate ourselves to engage in this simple task. Similarly, we should not have to tell ourselves “Jesus loves my neighbor so I should love my neighbor too.” These behaviors and expressions of love, no matter how small, should flow naturally out of our love for Christ, not out of a dispassionate sense of duty to mimic the actions of Christ.

As Christ-followers, these Christ-like sentiments must implicitly shape who we are, what we do, and how we treat the world around us.

So, the next time I go to the store, I think I might just be the person who chooses to return someone else’s cart along with my own.