I leaned over the row of candy allowing my poncho to hover over the Big Hunk candy bars. Like scaling piano keys, my right hand walked over Snickers and Milky Ways on the shelf above as my left hand carefully slid a Big Hunk into the hole I had made in the lining of my coat. Ingenious, I thought to myself…for a third grader, you’re awfully crafty!
As my girlfriend and I began our walk home, I reached into the lining and pulled out the bar. “Look what I took!" I said with great pride. I didn’t wait to see if she was looking, I just rattled on about the slit I had created between my poncho and it’s lining and how I could conceal stuff between the two. I was walking on air - and then noticed - I was walking alone. I turned around to find my friend stopped in the middle of the road.
I walked back to her and could see she was upset. “What’s wrong?”, I said softly. She took a deep breath and huffed, “I am SO disappointed in you, this is not who I thought you were! What you did was stealing. It is wrong, and you should be ashamed of yourself. I don’t to be friends with someone who steals!"
My sense of pride instantly plummeted into deep guilt that weighted my feet like quicksand. She was right, what I did was wrong. I was a thief - a thief without a best friend. We walked home separately. Every part of me felt ashamed and alone.
The next few hours were riddled with fear. What if my friend told my mom? What if someone saw me? What if the store called the base commander and my dad got in trouble for having deviant kids? I was consumed by my thoughts and countered them with trying to come up with lies to rid me of guilt.
I couldn't sleep. I didn’t want the candy bar anymore, but I couldn't keep it out in the open or throw it in a garbage where it might be discovered, so I placed it under my pillow. The fear didn't lift, nor did the guilt. All reasoning was stunted. I could not see that I could have thrown it away at school or anywhere outside of the home. Instead, each night as I crawled into bed with the Big Hunk bar under my pillow, I allowed it’s presence to remind me of what a horrible person I was. This is is my first recollection of shame.
The fear and the shame overwhelmed me until I ran to my mother with a blubbering unrecognizable confession. She did all the right things; she made me pay for the bar and return it. I had to donate my allowance to the church and she said she forgave me because she knew I was sorry and I was a good girl who made a bad choice. My shame was lifted.
This experience defined my life in so many ways. I learned about right and wrong, fear, guilt, shame, repentance, and grace. I learned that prolonged secrecy and guilt leads to shame and aloneness. I also learned that repentance is incredibly freeing, and that people are so much more forgiving when the secret is reveal by us and not circumstance.
Have I done anything since then that I feared someone would find out? Absolutely. But I can say, that I've not let it linger and transition from guilt to shame. I can also say that others have forgiven me and more importantly, I have forgiven myself and not reoffended.
Was it always easy? No, it was never easy! Was it always worth it? Without a doubt!