I got my start in business at a very early age; actual business and funny business. In the summer of 1966, I was the assistant-cashier-shelf stocker-sawdust spreader-feather duster-inventory control manager-and general side kick to my grandpa Oliver, at his corner grocery store in Ottumwa, Iowa. We were inseparable that summer. We enjoyed drinking “pops,” and eating liver cheese sandwiches on dark bread (unfortunately I discovered what liver cheese was made of a few years later… ugh!)
I ruled the roost of that little store from my Bob Cratchit-like perch behind the front counter. I sat regally along side the wood cased cash register; behind me was a wall of candy, gum, pills, tonics, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes…I developed a pretty bad “cigarette gum” habit that summer.
After a few weeks on the job I had noticed a shiny pearl handled silver six shooter with a brown leather-like holster temptingly hanging on the toy rack right next to the bright red Coca Cola ice-box. All day long the drink box hummed away, full of swirling icy water, and “pops.” Since I was the beverage inventory control manager as well, each time I replenished the stock, the pistol called out my name.
After just a few days of fantasizing about joining up with the Lone Ranger or Marshall Matt Dillon, I made the bold decision to simply take the gun and holster for my own. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of asking my grandfather for it. I was too proud to ask. So I simply walked over one afternoon while no one was looking, and I ripped it off the toy rack. I then made tracks to the only place I could think of to enjoy it -my grandparent’s basement in their house right next door to the store.
There in the dark, cool, quiet confines of my grandparent’s cellar, I tore open the plastic packaging and I savored the cold steel of the prized pearl handled six shooter in my greedy little hands. I strapped on the vinyl brown holster belt and began gunning down bad guys and bringing justice to the Old West.
However, after a while of blissful pretend playing, I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t take the gun out into the world and show it to anyone, after all, it was stolen property. I was pretty much confined to the basement, to clean up the Old West. And then it hit me: regret. I regretted taking the gun and holster, because I couldn’t really do anything with it, except play in the basement, and what was so fun about that? But even more than that, a worse feeling settled in. I regretted stealing from my grandfather.
He probably knew the minute I did it. Surely he noticed the guilt in my quiet, standoffish demeanor for the next few days, but he never said a word about it. I think we must have established an uncomfortable, but mutual understanding for those few days. I took something I shouldn’t have, and he knew it. But, he was going to patiently let me sort it out. So, on the third day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally broke down.
“Grandpa, I took a toy gun from the store, …and I’m sorry” I told him with my eyes firmly focused on the ground. My quavering voice squeaked out the …and I’m sorry. And then I just cried, and cried and cried. He leaned down and reached out and brought me to him; he hugged me and maybe laughed just a bit as my tears trickled into the white apron he always wore in the store. He held me long enough to let the warm embrace and the tears soak in.
“Timmy,” he said, “all you had to do was ask me and I’d have given it to you. Anything in this store you could have -all you have to do is ask.” That made me cry all the more. But as I felt his large hands embracing me around my trembling shoulders, pulling me in tighter, I knew at that moment we were back to being partners. I knew our bond was put back together.
For me, so many years later, this is my experience with the sacrament of reconciliation. When I sin, I realize the sin isn’t as shiny, or attractive as I thought it would be, but instead it has put me in a cold dark lonely place. It does no good to pile a guilt trip on myself and simply acknowledge personally it was wrong. When I sin, and when I acknowledge that is an offense against God, I have to go to God, and I have to say the words: this what I’ve done, and I’m sorry. For me, in that exchange there’s heavenly grace; it’s nothing less than a miracle that comes from this sacrament.
Today, I see myself as my grandpa Oliver. I think of the bonds and the relationships with my children, and now my own grandchild. I believe this is a glimpse into the way God sees us as his children. And I think of that re-bonding I did with my grandfather so many years ago. What a miracle it is that I get to re-bond in a similar way with God in the sacrament of reconciliation. When that happens, my inner spiritual tears of joy flow just as freely as they did, down my freckled little cheeks on that Iowa summer day so many years ago.