I wish I could find that truck driver and give him back that five dollars. Shucks, I’d give him twenty-five dollars just to be free of this memory of the time I did not do my job.
I was a sophomore in college, living that summer with my brother Ron and his wife Dorothy, and trying to scrounge up money any way I could. When I noticed the fellow across the street and how his truck’s lettering on the door was faded, I went into action. “I’ll repaint that on both doors for five dollars,” I told him. Bear in mind, at that time, five dollars was a day’s wages for me.
He agreed and paid me in advance. I brought out my paints and brushes and went to work. I do not recall what interrupted me that day. Probably he had to go to work or something, and I was going to finish it later. But I never did. I moved across town to the campus and put the man out of my mind. From time to time, Dorothy would remind me gently that the neighbor was waiting for me to come back and finish the job. He gave up on me and that was that. Almost.
The problem is that I keep remembering that man and the way I let him down after taking his money. It has been over 40 years now, and I still think about this from time to time, always with regret.
Loose ends. We all have them, I expect. If you had time, I could tell you about several more. This one, for example.
My first car was a real clunker. It was 5 years old and looked great. But in those days, a car with 55,000 miles on it was ready for a complete engine overhaul. No sooner had I driven it off the car lot when it began to overheat. The dealer was adamant that he would not refund my money. “You’re going to have to learn that a bargain is a bargain,” said Carl Price, a car dealer who will live in my memory forever. He finally agreed to go halves on repair costs. If any repairs were done the several times I drove the 40 miles back to his service department, I never could tell. It kept overheating. That’s when I did something bad.
I ran an ad in the Birmingham paper for someone to take up the payments on my car. And I did not tell the buyer about the problems. He was so nice, and assured me that he knew since I was a preacher (well, preacher-to-be, in those days) that I was trustworthy. A few days later, he phoned to tell me of the trip he was taking when the engine overheated. And me–I acted surprised. How could that have happened? Well, yes, it did do that once in a while.
I ache just remembering how I lied to that good man.
Ken Sande has written an outstanding book called “The Peacemaker.” He lists what he calls the 7 A’s of confession. After repenting of our sin, he says, the next step is to find the victim of our wrongdoing and confess. He calls confession “one of the most liberating acts in life.”
1. Address everyone involved. Confess to everyone directly affected by your deed.
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe. These are attempts to justify the wrong or even blame someone else.
3. Admit specifically. This convinces the other person you are genuinely seeking reconciliation.
4. Apologize. After telling what you did, you say, “I am so sorry I did that to you.”
5. Accept the consequences. Otherwise, it appears you are just trying to get out of paying for your wrong.
6. Alter your behavior. Tell the person how you intend to do differently in the future.
7. Ask for forgiveness and allow time.
My high school graduating class had its 40th anniversary in 1998. I was so happy to see Dixie there, because I needed to confess something I did to her in the seventh grade. When I told her that, she said, “What in the world can you possibly be talking about?”
I said, “I still remember the room our class was in that day. I was sitting behind you and Ray England was across from me. He spotted your billfold sitting on top of your books under the seat, and leaned over and said, ‘Joe, if you will move her billfold into that unused seat, I’ll get it later and divide the money with you.’ And I did.”
I said, “That afternoon, he gave me the billfold and maybe 3 or 4 dollars.” Dixie said, “I have no memory of any of this.” I said, “Believe me, I remember it–and have for over 45 years.”
Then I said, “First, I want to ask you to forgive me. And then I want you to have this twenty dollars.” She said, “I will forgive you in a heartbeat, but I’m not taking the money.”
I said, “You have to take it. It’s the only way I can get peace.” She said, “All right. I’ll do something for someone else with it.” And gave me a big hug.
One more loose end tied up. It felt great.
Got time for one more?
I was a pastor and I told a lie. It was my first church after seminary in the Mississippi Delta. Someone told me something uncomplimentary about a young man who sometimes attended our church, but whose mother and sister were members. I casually blurted out something about his bad character and immoral ways. Within one hour, the sister, Dale, called me in tears, asking if I had said that about her brother.
Dale and her husband lived three doors down from us. Our children played together. And I had been caught in a wrong that could severely injure our relationship. So I lied.
“That is not what I said,” I told her. And made up some story about what I did say. To her credit and my shame, she believed her lying pastor.
I felt lower than a snake’s belly, as the saying goes. And continued feeling that way for many many years, everytime that old ugly memory surfaced.
Then one day a few years ago, Dale and her husband came to visit us in Louisiana. We were sitting in the living room catching up on the families’ stories, when I said, “I am so glad you are here. I need to confess something to you and ask you to forgive me.”
She said, “What in the world could you possibly be talking about?” I told her. I told her every bit, sparing nothing.
And I asked her to forgive me.
She did, we hugged, and one more loose end was tied up.
Peace is wonderful. The feeling of shedding a burden you have carried for half a lifetime is indescribable.
I sometimes pray about some of those other loose ends, the times when I betrayed someone or failed to keep a promise. I repent, ask for God’s forgiveness, and pray Heaven’s blessings upon the individual I wronged. Yet I know the process will never be complete until we see each other face to face and I ask for his forgiveness.