One night, years ago, while tucking my brother and me into bed, my father started on the subject of stealing. Whether my brother introduced the topic or my dad simply felt the need to talk about it, I don’t recall. Dad expressed his utter contempt for thieves, saying that the lowest person on earth was one who would take something that did not belong to him. My dad’s words clobbered me, for that very day I had stolen a toy car from my friend, our next-door neighbor.
That afternoon in my friend’s room, while contemplating the theft, my internal dialogue went something like this: “I don’t have one of these. I want this one. I will slip it into my pocket when I leave. It’s just a toy. He won’t miss it.” The purloined object was a small, black Matchbox Trans-Am. However, upon hearing my father’s feelings on thieves it might as well have been an anchor the way it made me sink, causing my palms to sweat out of the self-awareness and guilt that was drowning me. I did not dare tell dad how terrified and guilt-stricken I was, imagining he would no longer love me were he to know that I, his eldest child, had dabbled in burglary that very afternoon.
That night while trying to sleep, my father’s speech tore at me. The following morning I sneaked out the back door without a shred of honor and tossed the stolen car over the fence into my friend’s yard, believing that somehow this gesture was enough to absolve me of any guilt or responsibility. I never told a soul. I am certain the toy was never found, was probably mowed over infinite times, and for all I know lies there still, buried beneath soil. A good thing gone bad.
My days of theft, regrettably, did not end with that Matchbox toy car. I am a repeat offender. I habitually steal valuables from myself, whether it be my own joy and memories, or the contentment of my soul. I often wonder what it would be like to silence the chaotic anxieties inside me for long enough to breathe without a care in the world, to inhale and exhale without constriction, to resist the urge to pilfer my own heart based on my belief that God is predestined to pull the carpet out from under me. Maybe it’s the 200-proof midlife responsibilities talking, maybe it’s the caffeine, maybe it’s the physical exhaustion of working outdoors in the sapping summer heat, but like a young prince who cannot fathom the idea of giving himself away, I wander off glumly, staring out into the horizon but rarely taking steps towards it. I am a malcontent, a person long-tormented by the multitude of gifts adorning his abundant life, blind or oblivious to them all. The hope of heaven should be enough to release a soul from worry—over money, over material goods, over the war of artful words and creative subjects—yet I continue to steal, a thief who cannot come clean.
I want to be a bad thing gone good. I know that my dad would not cease to love me because I stole a toy from a neighbor. Shame, however, is a burglary all its own. Living in the shadows, we forget the lonesome hope of ever finding contentment. I would never scold my hopes, I would never curse my dreams, I would never scorn the tangle of disappointments for they are the artful, Christ-laid stones along the path leading me to points of grace. Burial beneath a world of toil and trial is the miraculous way in which God redeems. It is the merciful method by which he steals our sad anxieties and reminds us that he has chosen to forgive and forget all our thievery, self-loathing, and shame. We are asked to do likewise. Behold, this miracle of forgetting is still in the world.