While I was sitting down and reading in a small bookstore, a woman sauntered in. After watching her pick up a book and a few cassettes, I noticed her hands fumbling inside her sweatjacket. She had stolen the book and tapes.
What to do? Turn her in? Go back to my book and pretend I didn't know what she had done?
Whenever I face difficult decisions, I pray. To me, prayer is a mental "turning away" from the human goings-on, and a deep and quiet recognition of the right-now and total presence of God. Prayer is affirmation that life is spiritual, that it is completely good, just like God.
Back in the bookstore, I prayed with thoughts like these. The idea that came to me was kind of shocking: "Love the woman."
Love someone who had just committed a crime? Sounds preposterous, but I knew the type of love that was needed. It involved seeing the woman as God sees her; in other words, as His/Her daughter, composed of God-given, spiritual qualities.
I knew very well from my own experience, and from the many incidents in the Bible, that loving like this in tough situations isn't a cockamamie idea, but is totally practical because it heals, redeems, and liberates.
I've experienced the redemptive and healing power of love countless times. As a teenager, I traveled frequently with my grandmother. On one trip to San Francisco, Gram was tired one afternoon, so she sent me out to sightsee alone. "Go to the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and take in the panoramic view from the top," she said.
When I returned to our hotel that evening, she asked, "Did you see the view?"
"Uh, yeah," I said nervously. I hadn't gone to the Mark Hopkins Hotel. But I didn't want to admit it.
Gram saw right through the lie. She was stern, but she was also loving. I don't recall her precise words, but, in essence, she told me that no matter what I did, she loved me because she loved God, and I was God's child, His/Her reflection. She told me that no matter how much we may feel that lying is the right or cool thing to do, it never really is. Lying renders us powerless, makes us feel separated from good, from God. This is because God is Truth itself. According to the founder of the Monitor: "Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 453).
I saw that I had been telling white lies throughout my life, and that I needed to admit that this was unacceptable. It was easy to do this when I saw how bad and weak I felt after lying to Gram, and how strong and happy I felt after admitting the truth. Gram's unconditional love, which was an expression of the love of God, had liberated me.
Back to the bookstore again. After praying, I knew I had to talk to the woman.
"Excuse me, ma'am," I said. "Did you steal those things in your pouch?"
Without hesitation, she said, stuttering, "Yes, yes, but I'll put them right back."
I asked God to show me how to help this woman. "No need," I said. "You can give them to me."
Tears began flowing from the corners of her eyes. "I'm just looking for help," she said. "I know I shouldn't have done that, but it's tough being on the street."
"God loves you," I said. "He loves you just like you are, and He is feeding you everything that you need. That's why you don't have to steal. You have God, and God loves you. Really loves you."
I could see the woman was still nervous. "Don't worry, I'm not turning you in. But I do want you to ask for help in finding a shelter," I said.
"Thanks for helping me," she said. "It's been real good talking with you. I knew there was a reason I was led to come in here today."
I'm not making any big claims about that encounter. But I felt that I, too, had been led to visit that store for a reason: to share the redemptive and liberating power of love.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society