They were standing next to the doughnut display talking about which kind to choose. It was the mention of the powdered sugar variety (my favorite, too) that caught my attention, and when I looked, I saw two boys, around 10 years old, deep in discussion over the boxes of pastry. The next thing I knew, a woman was rounding the corner, and one of the boys (who bore a vague resemblance to her) was plopping their choice in her cart.
"What's that?" she asked.
While I watched, mouth open in shock, the boy gave her a rather hard punch and shouted, "It's what you owe us."
I didn't know whether to cry or feel completely disgusted. But before I could do either, a thought hit me that made me put down the cheese I'd been inspecting before the punching incident and take a moment to think.
"See the David in him."
"The David in him?" I wondered.
The story of David and Goliath is one I've often turned to in my prayers about war or terrorism or in times when I've needed a good dose of courage. As the narrative goes, Goliath, a Philistine, has intimidated the Israelite army. And he's proposed the battle of all battles - one Israelite versus him - to determine the winner in the war between the two sides.
No one volunteers to fight Goliath until David comes along. The catch? David's a kid, Goliath a skilled warrior. Yet, David goes out to meet him with only the protection of a slingshot and five stones. His response when Goliath mocks him? "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts" (I Sam. 17:45).
Not surprisingly, David wins the battle.
It occurred to me that the story of David and Goliath is indeed a lesson about the power of good over evil - in more ways than one. In fact, I saw for the first time that I could read David as standing up to the harsher elements often associated with masculinity - standing up to them, and facing them down.
While Goliath represents ego, brute strength, bravado, bluster, and will, David displays the qualities of a more elevated sense of manhood (and boyhood): humility, intuition, wisdom, strength, and courage. Rather than rendering him weak, these characteristics are actually what allow him to triumph. And to prove - at least as I was seeing it now - that negative aspects of masculinity associated with men and boys must fail and fall in the face of the masculinity that's sustained by, and finds its source in, God.
The command to see the David in that boy in the grocery store, then, was a reminder that I needed to stay true to what God sees and knows about His children. This could never include "Goliath" qualities, because those certainly don't have their origin in a Creator who is also known as divine Love.
Thinking about this now reminded me of an incident I'd witnessed some weeks before. Riding home from work on the train, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two passengers waiting to get off at the next stop.
One was an elderly lady who looked as though she might need help piloting an unwieldy shopping cart down the stairs from the platform. The other was a teenage guy - punk, grungy - toting a skateboard.
What happened next both surprised and delighted me. With a tender chivalry I'd seldom seen, the guy took the woman's cart, navigated it down the stairs for her, and then stood by, patiently, to make sure she crossed the train tracks safely.
I loved this example as a poignant reminder that seeing the man God made often flies in the face of the sometimes negative expectations we carry around. Yet, when we do make the effort to see - and expect - that man, and to value and cherish him, the effect is somewhat remarkable. Healing, actually.
In the end, what I saw in the grocery store left me feeling hopeful, not disgusted, because it impelled me to pray for all boys and men, everywhere - to bring out the best in boys by seeing past stereotypes to the children of God's creating. When I did (and do), I find compelling examples of Davids wherever I look, just waiting to be discovered.