A Light Thing

moneyroseAnd this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (Joh 3:19)

I have a vivid memory within my childhood of a serious sin. I was probably around seven or eight and an object had captured both my eye and my young heart: a baseball glove. It’s cost was probably less than ten dollars, and yet, a small fortune. I was told I could buy it, but I would have to save my allowance and any coins I earned from odd chores and the like.

The glove lay in my mind and refused to go away. So, I began saving, working and watched my cache of money grow at an agonizing crawl. But one day I saw a dollar bill lying loose in my mother’s purse. It was an unusual occurrence. Money was never just “loose” in those days. I suspect my father made less than $100 a month and my mother carefully measured every expense and made our meager ends meet.

But I kept coming back to the dollar. In the end, I stole it.

That is the sin. But not the end of the story. The deed was discovered (my Mother was not one to forget a dollar) and I was questioned. I confessed. And then the strangest thing happened.

I expected a serious “whipping.” Everyone in the neighborhood was regularly whipped (usually with a belt) for one infraction or another – it’s how things were done in those days. But no whipping came. Instead, my mother sat with me and talked about what I had done. My shame was terrible. I would certainly have preferred the whipping.

Eventually I bought the glove – but it always reminded me of a dark place in my soul.

It is interesting to me that I have almost no memory of the various infractions that merited the belt. I certainly remember the belt, but not my sins. It was the one thing for which I was not punished that stands out as the most serious crime of my childhood.

Darkness is a strange thing – particularly the darkness about which Christ warns us. It is constructed largely of our fear of shame. It provides a false hiding place and creates its own web of delusion. The modern world is awash in “news” but often bereft of light. Governments, organizations, and much worse, our own selves speak with dark words, words that seek to disguise and excuse the crimes of our lives.

Christ told His disciples, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ More than this comes from evil.” It is an admonition to simple speech. I recall a friend whose company laid him off. But he was told he was not “laid off.” Instead, his “job had been eliminated.” If the job received a new name, then his status was somehow changed. Their elimination, his lack of work.

That, of course, is a minor infraction. The modern world  has become accustomed to words being used to disguise the truth. And sadly, the words are part of a “conspiracy of darkness” to which many silently give assent. We know that the words cover something else, but plain speech is rejected as “insensitive” and the like. Yes and no are so problematic for us.

But I look back to my childhood. Shame was a fearful thing, though its presence became a healing balm. My mother did not set herself as my avenger, but sat with me quietly and with great tenderness as I endured the pain that the light brings.

Last year, my wife and I were dining out. When I sat in my booth, I noticed a five-dollar bill on the floor beneath my shoe. I reached down and picked it up. When the waiter showed up, I gave it to him saying, “I think your tip fell on the floor.” He thanked me and that was that.

When we finished our meal, I asked for my check. “It’s already been paid for by the gentleman at the other table. He saw what you did and paid for your meal.”

My mother would have been proud. The light is so much better than the darkness.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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11 responses to “A Light Thing”

  1. Corey Avatar

    The odd thing about shame is how our collective shame feeds itself. We proclaim judgement on others in order to minimize our own darkness, which increases the shame of others. They pass judgement in turn. All of us are diving deeper into our secret dungeons, running further and further from self-knowledge, all of us too evil to look at ourselves.

  2. Byron Avatar

    I was just laid off this past Monday. On a call now for “those impacted by the reduction in workforce”. It’s almost comical how we twist language now to avoid saying the obvious!

    Thank you for this, Father! Many Blessings!

  3. Corey Avatar

    On of the hard things about Orthodoxy is being forced to look at yourself.

  4. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Your loving mother turned your dollar of shame into a rose–re . photo. 🙂

  5. Mark Avatar

    Hawk Upon A Summer Day

    upon a summer day
    rising up on outstretched wings
    sailor of the skies
    now and ever
    circling in my mind.
    Icon of my heart’s desire,
    reminder of my shame-
    how often have I
    envied you your nature

  6. Andrew T. Avatar
    Andrew T.

    I am so glad that “God loves us more than the devil hates us.”

    I like the author of that quote. 😉

  7. Karen Avatar

    Byron, my husband was laid off at the end of last May. He has been encouraged by the outplacement service he uses to refer to his present job status as “in transition.” May the Lord help you and guide you to where He wants you to be.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We are all in transition from death into life.

    Guilt and shame are two different things. Shame properly bourn moves us toward life. Guilt keeps us frozen in darkness and self-loathing.

    It has been 18 years since I was last laid off, terminated due to the malfeasance of my bosses.

    I learned many things: the love of my wife, the power of forgiveness and that God provides.

    When my family relied on God’s mercy it was like being in the eye of a storm–at peace despite the blustering going on around us. As Peter walking on the water.

    Byron may you be even more greatly blessed. May your next employment be filled with God’s provision.

  9. drewster2000 Avatar

    I love this:

    “It is interesting to me that I have almost no memory of the various infractions that merited the belt. I certainly remember the belt, but not my sins.”

    I think this is why God tends to stay away from using the belt on us – and even then does so only as a way to teach and nurture. We best remember the times He sits with us in our shame, and loves us through all the pain. His goal with us is restoration, not retribution.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Silouan related his father waiting for six months to point out a mistake he made. “He was a better spiritual father than any of my confessors…”

  11. Byron Avatar

    Karen and Michael, many thanks! I am becoming eager to find where God leads in this situation. Please pray for me!

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