Free Will and Shopping Carts

One of the things I love doing with my 3 year old son is to take him to the grocery store.

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My little guy loves to get one of those “toddler shopping carts” with a steering wheel, and we wend our way through the store, him “steering” and me acting as the “engine,” brakes, and sanity check.

He is very serious about his job of steering the cart: energetically spinning the wheel this way and that to guide the cart towards his intended destination of the moment; pointing at and commenting about various things he wants daddy to see (or procure); and making sure no food sample is missed.

It’s a fun voyage, and one that often ends with us hitting the hot food and salad bar to select a meal, usually consisting of (for him) chicken, potatoes, corn, cauliflower and a small bottle of either cranberry juice or goat milk.  We then sit down in the store’s dining area and enjoy our meal together, watching the “cart person” dashing this way and that in the parking lot, and seeing shoppers of every description rolling by with carts full of groceries.

One thing I think about as we roll along with him “piloting” our cart through the aisles is that this could be a good metaphor for the nature of free will in our lives.  Yes, we do define our own path in life – steering this way and that: observing and participating in all the wonderful variety of this world in which we live.  But, the entire environment, and all the rules that constrain where we can go and how we get there have been designed and implemented by God.  Even the bodies in which we live, the mind with which we observe the world, and all of our senses, are God’s creations.  All that we think, see, hear, feel, touch, smell and experience are constrained by the very design of the Universe.

So, in seeing my son “drive” his cart, I think of how yes – he believes he’s doing all the work, making all the choices.  But it is others who designed and stocked the store, and ultimately even where he can go within that environment is constrained by whoever is pushing the cart.  My son believes his voyage is directed by his own free will; but in looking at the larger picture, we realize that things are not always as they seem, especially when we think we’re in the driver’s seat.

Copyright (c) 2013, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site). 

Author: Allen

A would-be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is the proud father of a daughter and son, and enjoys life with his wife near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at

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