Lesson Seven — Words of Love: Do Not Steal
The Eighth Word
Primary Scripture: Exodus 20:15 and Matthew 25:31–46
To Catch a Thief
How do we steal from others the things that give their lives dignity? There are small ways we tear others down, but there are also large, global, ways our privilege and policies rob people we will never meet.
It is not hard to see small ways we steal from others: the CD we copied and shared without buying, the movie download we took and gave to others, the library book we meant to return but didn’t, the ride we promised a friend and the time we kept her waiting for us to arrive, or the sick day we went to the beach to ‘recuperate’ when all we had was Spring fever. We can recognize how we steal from God by withholding our full tithes or declining a call from the Nominating Committee or letting fear rule our choices. We might even feel a bit of righteous shame when we consider the morals and integrity of the companies in our investment portfolios, or the near-slave labor that keeps our costs down at the dollar store.
I wonder, though, do we feel that same shame-shiver when we think of the ways we steal dignity from ourselves?
Let’s think about that a bit—steal dignity. Remember the last time you made a disparaging comment about yourself internally or aloud to others? When you did that you stole some of your self-esteem. Have you ever submitted to something that you knew was wrong to keep the peace or avoid changing your overall thinking too much? When you did that you stole your own voice and numbed your moral compass. What about body shaming? Stealing. Ruminating on past failures? Stealing the joy or contentment of the now. Harboring ill will or the inability to forgive? Stealing space inside of you that God could, and wants, to fill in a different way. (I love writer Anne Lamott’s quote, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”) Do you ever refuse times of solitude by filling every moment with activity, sound, tasks, TV, or social media? When you do you steal from yourself the inner quiet in which God heals and plants God’s presence deep within. Do you ever find that you give more airtime to your bad news than your good news; to the world’s disasters than the world’s grace? In so doing you steal from yourself one of God’s most powerful healing gifts, gratitude, right when you need it most. Do you ever procrastinate? If you do you steal your peace and your time that might be used for something else later. Do you say to yourself that you will eat healthier tomorrow? Get up off the couch more tomorrow? Send out those notes of appreciation tomorrow? You are stealing, by what you do not do, the life of blessing that those actions could bring you. Get the idea? Many of us have a personal sneak thief at work in us!
How do we catch the thief that is sometimes us? Awareness is a good place to start. Try to notice when you feel uncomfortable, angry, or anxious. Take a breath and ask God if you are doing anything that is contributing to your discomfort. Sometimes the answer is no, but often it is yes. Breathing into our discomfort, or even into a new awareness, is a wonderful way to pause and bring the power of the Holy Spirit to bear on our hurts. When you breathe and ask God for guidance you often find a gentle nudge to offer grace to yourself in both mental and physical ways.
If you feel overwhelmed by suddenly seeing the ways that you steal from yourself, don’t try to change everything at once! Simply noticing the thefts will help begin change. Our loving and capable God stands ready to help and heal at all times! Don’t steal from yourself further and cause undue shame. Instead, decide that you will gather up gratitude and give it to yourself as a healing gift to salve the wounds inflicted by your inner thief. Try creating a ‘surrender box.’ Write on slips of paper the habits, worries, or thought patterns that are your personal sneak thieves. Place these slips of paper in the box, thereby giving them to God for either repair or safe keeping. Go back to your box in a few months and consider the ways that God has worked in your life to deal with the issues you placed inside. Then give thanks! With God’s help you can catch that little thief, learn her lessons, and let her go!
Eugenia Anne Gamble
Author of the 2019–2020 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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