One of the things I want to accomplish during my time of unemployment is to make amends for some of the major mistakes I’ve made and the people I’ve hurt in my lifetime. Sounds like a major undertaking, right?
I was inspired to do this by reading up on some of the philosophies of 12-step programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous). One of the 12 steps in all of these programs is to make amends to all the people you’ve wronged in the past. I thought this was a worthy undertaking for anyone – not just people in a 12-step program. It was a very Christian thing to do.
It’s true that God will forgive your sins if you ask for forgiveness, and that Jesus paid the penalty of those sins on the cross – but just asking God for forgiveness doesn’t make things right with the person you’ve wronged. As best we can, we should make restitution for the harm we’ve caused others. And that’s where amends come in.
I’ve made an extensive list of people I would like to make amends to. Not only people I’ve harmed during my youth, but some I’ve harmed in my professional life as an adult. In the next few weeks, I will be contacting these people and making it a priority to make amends with them – not only ask them for forgiveness, but also do whatever is in my power to make things right between us.
To start things off, I thought way back to my early childhood, living in Arlington, Virginia. The earliest episode of wrongdoing I can remember is when I stole toys from a local drug store after piano lessons. On the way home from the piano teacher’s place, my mom would often take us to People’s Drugstore (now CVS). I remember two occasions when I opened the package of a G.I. Joe figure and shoplifted the figure out of the store. One was a Cobra Eel frogman figure, and the other was Copperhead the driver of the Water Moccasin vehicle.
I’m not totally sure the Cobra Eel was shoplifted, but am definitely sure Copperhead was, as I thought long and hard as a child how I could remove the figure from the vehicle box without being seen by anyone. And that was the second time I had stolen a figure.
When I got home that evening, I used the same lie as the first time. I went outside, then ran back inside the house feigning excitement and claiming I had “found” the figure outside in the yard. I guess my mom thought it was too coincidental for me to find two brand new G.I. Joe figures in the yard in a short amount of time, so she called me out on my lie and was furious that I had apparently stolen the toy.
Overwhelmed with guilt that evening, I spilled my guts to my mom, while crying on the couch. She forgave me and, I believe, took the toy from me, or made me give it to my cousin Robby. I’m not totally clear on what happened to it, other than I never got to play with it.
God forgave me of that sin of theft, but every time I think back upon it, I feel paralyzed with embarrassment. Which is why I finally felt the need to make amends for it – albeit 25 years later.
To the best of my ability, I’ve tried to locate where that People’s Drugstore used to be. Naturally, it would now be a CVS, but I didn’t know where in Arlington it was. I asked my family if they remembered, but none really could. Jamie did suggest one possible location of a CVS on Glebe Road that was close to the vicinity where we lived.
I went to the CVS this afternoon and had a very awkward conversation with the manager.
I walked in and asked one of the clerks if I could speak with the manager. Soon after, a Middle Eastern woman came out and asked me how she could help. Stumbling on my words, I told her I had a very strange story to tell her. I told her (within earshot of several customers and employees) that I had come to this store when I was a child and shoplifted toys. I felt bad about that and was here to make restitution for my theft. I took out $40 from my wallet and handed it to her.
She was dumbstruck. She asked me why I bothered. I told her that I was a Christian and felt bad for my previous thefts and was here to make amends. I took out a Gospel of John and handed it to her. “It’s what Jesus would want me to do,” I said. She told me she would be right back.
She returned after several long minutes with another woman – her supervisor. She had explained the story to her supervisor, and the supervisor asked me to repeat the story. I did. She smiled and thanked me for the effort, but said I should give the money to a church instead. She said that God sees everything and that He knows I’m sorry. I told her I already give money to my church and that this money was for the store to make up for the money it lost from my shoplifting.
The supervisor didn’t know what to say. Eventually, she exclaimed that no one had ever done this before. She accepted the money, and I left the store.
I’m not sure what effects my action may have. I certainly feel like I can put that episode of shoplifting behind me and never be embarrassed by it again. As for the two women I spoke with… one of them seemed to be a church-going Christian, while the Middle Eastern woman just remained silent and observed what was going on. I can only hope that my action may spark up a spiritual discussion between the two women. And just maybe one of them will read the Gospel of John I gave her.
And the reason I’m blogging about these events is to inspire other Christians to think back on their past and make restitution with people they’ve harmed. You never know how God will use that.
God forgives sins, and if you’re a Christian, Jesus has paid for your sins (past, present, and future) already. But it’s up to you to set things right with the people you’ve harmed.
I understand why you did what you did, and that your reason for blogging is to inspire. But couldn’t your blogging about it also be inferred as “bragging” about your good deed? We should not do good things to be seen or tell people about them to be seen but do it for the glory of God. I’m not saying you had poor intentions, but I think some might think so.
That’s certainly possible. And I did struggle with the issue of doing things to be seen, rather than in secret (Matthew 6:1). But I was reminded by a sermon by Lon Solomon, where he said he disliked Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, because he publicly humiliated a coach by firing him on TV before letting the coach know. Lon said that the only way Jerry Jones could redeem himself in his eyes was to apologize for what he did — and do it in the same public way as the initial offense was given. Many of the things I’ve done wrong were done in public. People (family, coworkers) were around to witness my wrongdoing, so my amends should also be made in a public setting. If I lied on an Internet message board about something, I should apologize for it in the same or similar venue. A public sin needs a public apology.