Pushed a shopping cart out of a store this morning, congratulating myself that I'd spent less than I'd estimated. Like many--real!--mathematicians, I keep a running total in my head so that my purchases don't exceed a certain designated dollar amount. This is particularly true when I intend to pay with cash, as I did this morning. I always round up when I'm figuring, too, so that I'm never short. Off the mark on the topside? All the time, especially in the grocery store, where there's no tax involved.
But this morning, I was off. I mean almost 10 dollars off. So when I got into the car, I rechecked my receipt, and sure enough, two flat pieces of plastic to be used as quilting templates weren't on the receipt. I had failed to put them on the counter, hadn't even seen or thought about it until I itemized the receipt against the purchases.
And then I did a terrible thing. I sat in my car a moment, contemplating turning the key in the ignition. Just driving away. Then, of course, I got out of the car, walked back into the store with the sheets of plastic. I happened to get the same checker who'd just rung up my other purchases, and she was impressed that I'd brought them back. "I hesitated," I confessed, needing to confess--to someone then, and apparently to someone else now. "Anybody would have," she answered.
That did absolve me for a moment, I admit. But as I drove away, I thought about that hesitation. About that furtive glance around to see if anyone had noticed that I'd walked out of the store with things I hadn't paid for. No one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me. In that life-passing-before-my-eyes instant, though, I'd seen large, burly security guards hitching up their pants as they came after me. I'd imagined handcuffs and humiliation. But as I imagined, I also knew I'd actually 'gotten away with it.' I mean, I could seriously drive away with goods I hadn't bought. And I'd never be found out.
"The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out," said Thomas Babington Macaulay.
So then came the second split second, the one that had me opening the car door and walking back into the store (leaving my keys in the ignition even! Ah, my memory!). Somebody would find out. Somebody already knew. He was sitting in the car with me, holding His breath to see what decision I'd make. Intimately present as I chose right or wrong. And He let out that held breath (and protected the car) as I actually did that right thing. The only thing.
We're talking here about two items that added up to 8.74, which I know because I paid for them. 8.74's worth of reminding me that sin--all, any, each--is against God. He's the one who knows, who always knows. Sometimes the only one who knows. But that's the whole point. His knowing, and my desire to please--not disappoint--Him, is the basic motivation in my life. I'm not ashamed of it. Not by a long shot. I'm grateful for it, because I know--I absolutely know--that it comes from the One who holds His breath watching, and the One (the same One) who indwells me, pressing me to make that choice, and the One (also the same One) who gave His life so that my wrong choices--and they are aplenty!--are not held against me. Three in One, and I would please them all at Once. Please, God, please You.