“I haven’t broken the law in 20+ years.” The message was meant as a joke to a friend, and I smiled as I wrote it. Even as a joke, I wanted to be truthful in what I was saying though, and I paused, mentally checking off a list, to be sure it was true before I hit send.
I paid my taxes – check. I didn’t throw garbage on the street – check, and I certainly hadn’t killed anybody – check.
I went through my day, starting around 5:00 AM. I begin by snuggling into my couch, for a few minutes of “Coffee with Jesus,” reading a small piece of the Bible and journaling about what I’ve discovered. Too often lately, I’ve skipped “Coffee with Jesus” to work on other things as if they are more important or more urgent. Sometimes I get distracted by email or social media. Usually I write a Single Mom Smiling or Strahlen Grace blog post. Coffee with Jesus may not look productive, but my stress levels definitely differ when I take a few moments to remember who I am and who He is each morning. I need to make that a priority, but skipping it isn’t exactly breaking the law.
After that, I work on my writing, wake the boys up, make 8 sandwiches for the four boys still living at home, and get them and myself off to school.
No laws broken so far. No laws broken in school. No laws broken after when I’m home alone writing, life coaching, or housecleaning.
After school I run from activity to activity. I follow three different soccer teams with sons playing for varsity, JV and town rec programs, and one football team for my son who plays for a neighboring school district. I thought of the running I do with the boys and knew that, if I’m being honest, I’d have to admit to breaking the law by speeding and that speeding may have more to do with my lead foot than the need to get places quickly although timing is certainly an issue with five boys.
I amended my message to read, “Other than speeding, I haven’t broken the law in 20+ years,” and felt pretty confident as I hit send.
I’ve broken no major laws in 20+years, no excessive drinking, no drug use, no…I couldn’t even imagine what other laws I might break. Honestly I live a fairly boring, normal life.
It was maybe two days later that I found myself absently strolling through our local supermarket pushing my cart up the first aisle. An open bag of grapes was in the seat where I used to place my little ones. Aa grape was in my mouth and another touched my lips as I thought, “I’m eating grapes, grapes I haven’t paid for.” How many I had eaten already I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had consumed several and obviously intended to consume several more since my hand held the evidence.
Within the next few days I noticed some disturbing realities. I don’t just break the law by stealing grapes. I break the law a lot.
I thought of this as I sat in traffic behind a car waiting to make a left turn. I was first in a line of cars slowing down behind me. I could have waited patiently. I wasn’t really in a rush, but there was also plenty of room for me to go around on the shoulder. I would go over the white line but not into anyone’s yard or anything. As I was inching carefully by the left turning car, it occurred to me that passing this over the white line was also illegal.
It wasn’t long after that I waited at a red light. I picked up my phone, checked a text message, and whipped off a response. Granted the light was red and my phone had only been in my hand for a few quick seconds, but the point is I was texting while the car was on, technically not driving, but I was following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, and I was still breaking the law.
So what? It’s just a tiny grape.
It’s just a little over the white line. It helped those behind me too.
It was a super fast text while stopped.
Every one of my broken laws had been rationalized. It was okay to steal grapes because they’re small and insignificant. The grapes that I steal will never put a supermarket out of business. Passing the driver on the right helped everyone else behind me too. Texting at a traffic light is really it’s not that big of a deal it’s not like I’m texting and driving or anything.
It’s not like any of my offenses are jail-able offenses.
Maybe what I should have written to my friend is that I haven’t committed a jail-able offense in the last 20+ years.
It sounded kind of pathetic put that way. I hadn’t committed any jail-worthy offense in 20+ years, but was that was my goal?Was not committing jail-able offenses the best I was hoping to be? Would my life be a success if only I don’t go to jail? There had to be more to it than that!
Sunday’s gospel, the Gospel of Luke, says
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If I wanted my friends and my family to trust me I had to be trustworthy in everything, including in little things like stolen grapes.
As a single mom struggling to teach five boys how to be strong, honorable, respectful men who love God more than they love themselves or anyone else, I had to be trustworthy in everything. They see the hypocrisy within me if I say it’s okay to steal a grape but not a pineapple. They see the hypocrisy when I tell them it’s okay to pass the white line on the right but not the double yellow line on the left, and my seven-year-old has pointed out that I should not be texting even when it’s to one of his brothers and I am sitting in our driveway!
The problem with stating something like, “I have not broken the law,” is that our laws are at best the baseline of what our moral character should be. It’s not enough to say, “I haven’t broken the law,” and look for a pat on the back. Simply not breaking the law does not raise us to any level of greatness we were created to achieve.
There’s more to it, and I have broken laws far greater than any that govern our land.
God’s Laws: The Two Greatest Commandments
Jesus Christ gave us only two law (See the Baltimore Catechism),
Love the Lord your God above all things
and love your neighbor as yourself.
How often have I broken these laws? How often have I made myself greater than God? How often have I fallen to temptation, wanting something desperately when I know I should put God’s plan and His timing over my desire for instant gratification? How often have I taken praise but forgotten to give thanks? How often have I put myself and others down and insulted God’s creation by forgetting that each of us is God’s beloved child?
What about the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” How often have I failed to love? How often have I stolen someone’s dignity? How often have I dismissed my actions as I did the stolen grapes as just a little thing and scorned the hurt person as too sensitive? How often have I rolled my eyes at my mother or cut her short? How often do I parent out of fear or loneliness, cowardice or worry rather than from a standpoint of love and strength and courage? How often have I acted hastily, said things I wish I hadn’t, held back things I wish I’d said? How often have I done things or missed opportunities to do things that made me want to turn back time? How often have I justified what I was doing?
Love my neighbor as myself, but how often have I truly loved myself? How often have I said I was stupid, fat, ugly, dumb, just a mother, just a housewife, just a teacher, just a nothing, and just a nobody? How often have I put my trust in the wrong people and then blamed myself without fixing myself? How often have I repeated the same harmful patterns and expected different outcomes? How often have I refused to look at my mistakes but readily pointed fingers at others and missed the chance to grow and become the person I was created to be? How often do I put myself down and build myself up for the wrong things?
I’ve broken laws far greater than speeding and stolen grapes, passed vehicles and texting while stopped.
And most of the time, I don’t even realize it.
How many broken laws, like speeding, have become so natural to me that I don’t even consider them to be breaking the law? How many of the laws I break are justified because they are little things or everyone else is doing it too or because I follow the spirit or letter of the law when it suits me without following the law in its entirety?
When my goal is simply to avoid jail and to not commit jail-able offenses I’m missing the point. Love the Lord your God above all. Love your neighbor as yourself.
God the Father created each and every one of us in His image, but I’ve broken the law in failing to remember or act as if that is true. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been hard-hearted. I’ve been cowardly. I’ve been mean and nasty, and there are times I haven’t even cared.
To be trustworthy in big things, we must be trustworthy in Little Things. That means being trusted not to eat the grapes but it means so much more too. It means following the only two laws that really matter,
Love the Lord your God above all things
and love your neighbor as yourself.
I have a lot to learn.
But I want to be trustworthy in all things. Today, all I can do is seek forgiveness for wrongs done while also seeking to do and be better, to avoid legalism while striving for trustworthiness and to always search for ways to love better, more completely, more fully, more openly, more givingly.
Today, I will try harder to not break any laws.
Unfortunately, today I will probably fail again.
And today I will seek to be more thankful than ever for the forgiveness offered each of us by a God who loves us where we are.
Today, I thank God for the Mercy and forgiveness Jesus offers each of us, from the most saintly to the most hardened sinner. No broken law and no law breaker is greater than the love offered to you today. I hope you join me in living the only two laws that matter more fully and for rejoicing in the love that is always available to you as well.
Love your God.
Love your neighbor.
Seek forgiveness and know you receive it.
Act in love in all things big and small.
And, as always, thanks for commenting, liking, following, and sharing!
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7 thoughts on “I Stole a Grape and Broke the Law”
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First, Bravo… loved your write. Pat yourself on your back neighbor on my behalf, and then again on your own. Great subject to bring to the surface.
We all break the law(s); Gods and mans everyday. That statement isn’t meant to normalize it but rather point out…we are never alone in what we do, right or wrong. Christ, has been along side me in ever misstep I’ve taken. And like you Stahlen, I need our Lord to catch me off guard, catching myself in the moment of wrong, so I might see how unconsciously selfish I act with little or no regard to him. To me, this is progress, this is being fed truth, however bitter it may taste based upon my own sowing. These are the times I am even that much more grateful for; for Lord points these things out because he wants me to become more law abiding, if I am willing to be.
Please continue to write, especially from your unique perspective.
God bless you and your family,
Poet of the Light
LOL I might just do that! Thank you Poet! 🙂
Thank you for this wonderful reminder!
Thank you Jennifer! 🙂
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