by Chad Pierce
I witnessed a resurrection of sorts in the customer service line at Target.
My wife Jodi and I were visiting family in Holland, Michigan one summer from Pella, Iowa. Pella is nice, but it has no stores like Target. So while the trip to the Mitten allowed us to see family, it also provided us (my wife) with the opportunity to load up on a bunch of necessities (junk) to make it through the next season on the frontier.
I remember sitting in my in-law’s house half paying attention to Jodi as she showed me what seemed to be quite a haul from the superstore. I saw my son Michael, who was six at the time and had accompanied Jodi to Target, pull some unwrapped candy from his pocket as if to show me what he had from the store. The look that my wife gave me let me know that they had not paid for it. That got my full attention.
“What are you going to do about this?” Jodi asked. Me? I knew that “Eat it” was not going to be the correct answer.
But I did ask, “What do you mean ‘what am I going to do about this?’ You were the one who wasn’t watching him. In fact you drove the getaway car.”
Her look alone let me know that my line of questioning was inappropriate, not to mention her father was watching me to see what I was going to do.
“C’mon buddy,” I said. “We’re going back to Target.” He started to cry immediately. He cried the whole way. I tried to reassure him that it would be ok since I was a minister. I could visit him in prison whenever I wanted.
Back to the Store
We got to Target. I held his hand and dragged him, while trying to make it look like I was lovingly guiding him, to the customer service desk.
We made it to the front of the line. I told Michael to tell the woman behind the counter what he had done. I wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do. But with tears streaming down his cheeks, he told the woman, “I took this candy, and I didn’t pay for it. I’m sorry”
The clerk responded, “Oh no, that’s not good. Are you ever going to do that again?” Michael answered with a snot-filled, sputtering “No.” The clerk thanked him for being honest, and then said that she forgave him. She forgave him!
I looked at Michael thinking that our ordeal was over. It wasn’t. He just stood there weeping. It must have been dusty in the store because my eyes started to get watery too. What I now saw was not a petty thief but a little boy who was crushed under the weight of shame and guilt, all over 75 cents. I saw a boy who just had a small piece of himself die.
I said to him “What you did was wrong. But you said you were sorry and you were forgiven. It’s over. We don’t ever have to talk about this again. That’s what being forgiven means.”
He got it. I could see his physical pain turn to joy. We left Target. This time we skipped through the parking lot and sang songs together on the drive back. Jodi was there to meet me in the garage. She noted that Michael seemed happy. I told her “He is!” But it was more than that. What you couldn’t have known unless you were there is that our son was yoked with shame but raised to new life through the simple and yet powerful reality of forgiveness.
During this season of Lent, we are rightly made aware of our sin, our guilt, our humanness, our shame. I am reminded of Mark 10:21. In this story, a man claiming to have kept all the commandments asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus challenged him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. But just as important as his words, Mark says that “Jesus looked at him, and loved him.” Jesus loved him. Even while this man thought he was doing everything right and still was not able to do what Jesus had commanded, Jesus loved him.
While we are confronted with our sin during Lent, we do so as people who are loved, not shamed, by God. Christ looks at us with the same look of love as he did the rich young ruler.
Lent is where we go to die a little, but we do so knowing that new life is coming. Lent is when we confess our sins to God, knowing that out of love, God stooped down to our level to bring forgiveness. As we approach Holy Week, it is my prayer that part of us might die so that we might also experience the joy of the resurrection, even if it’s at the customer service desk at Target.
PS. Michael has given me permission to tell this story–partly because of his experience of forgiveness, and partly because he remembers that his older sister got in more trouble for teasing him about stealing the candy than he did for actually taking the candy.