I have a vivid memory within my childhood of a serious sin. I was probably around seven or eight and an object had captured both my eye and my young heart: a baseball glove. It’s cost was probably less than ten dollars, and yet, a small fortune. I was told I could buy it, but I would have to save my allowance and any coins I earned from odd chores and the like.
The glove lay in my mind and refused to go away. So, I began saving, working and watched my cache of money grow at an agonizing crawl. But one day I saw a dollar bill lying loose in my mother’s purse. It was an unusual occurrence. Money was never just “loose” in those days. I suspect my father made less than $100 a month and my mother carefully measured every expense and made our meager ends meet.
But I kept coming back to the dollar. In the end, I stole it.
That is the sin. But not the end of the story. The deed was discovered (my Mother was not one to forget a dollar) and I was questioned. I confessed. And then the strangest thing happened.
I expected a serious “whipping.” Everyone in the neighborhood was regularly whipped (usually with a belt) for one infraction or another – it’s how things were done in those days. But no whipping came. Instead, my mother sat with me and talked about what I had done. My shame was terrible. I would certainly have preferred the whipping.
Eventually I bought the glove – but it always reminded me of a dark place in my soul.
It is interesting to me that I have almost no memory of the various infractions that merited the belt. I certainly remember the belt, but not my sins. It was the one thing for which I was not punished that stands out as the most serious crime of my childhood.
Darkness is a strange thing – particularly the darkness about which Christ warns us. It is constructed largely of our fear of shame. It provides a false hiding place and creates its own web of delusion. The modern world is awash in “news” but often bereft of light. Governments, organizations, and much worse, our own selves speak with dark words, words that seek to disguise and excuse the crimes of our lives.
Christ told His disciples, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ More than this comes from evil.” It is an admonition to simple speech. I recall a friend whose company laid him off. But he was told he was not “laid off.” Instead, his “job had been eliminated.” If the job received a new name, then his status was somehow changed. Their elimination, his lack of work.
That, of course, is a minor infraction. The modern world has become accustomed to words being used to disguise the truth. And sadly, the words are part of a “conspiracy of darkness” to which many silently give assent. We know that the words cover something else, but plain speech is rejected as “insensitive” and the like. Yes and no are so problematic for us.
But I look back to my childhood. Shame was a fearful thing, though its presence became a healing balm. My mother did not set herself as my avenger, but sat with me quietly and with great tenderness as I endured the pain that the light brings.
Last year, my wife and I were dining out. When I sat in my booth, I noticed a five-dollar bill on the floor beneath my shoe. I reached down and picked it up. When the waiter showed up, I gave it to him saying, “I think your tip fell on the floor.” He thanked me and that was that.
When we finished our meal, I asked for my check. “It’s already been paid for by the gentleman at the other table. He saw what you did and paid for your meal.”
My mother would have been proud. The light is so much better than the darkness.