Guilt, Grace, and Bologna

“All liars go to Hell.”

I know a lady who used to say this to her daughter whenever she thought her daughter was stretching, bending, or annihilating the truth.  It was effective at opening her daughter’s eyes and changing her daughter’s words.  Being blunt is often the only way to get serious thoughts inside of hard heads. 

My head wasn’t all that hard when I was a child.  I knew that lying was bad.  Honesty and truthfulness were rewarded both in my house and in the Kingdom of God.  Lies weren’t categorized into big or little.  Lies were lies and they would not be tolerated.  Life was a big game of Whack-A-Mole.  Lies were one of the things that caused heads to pop up out of the ground and God held the hammer.

Fearing the Lord was a given.

I also feared my father.  More accurately, I feared disappointing him.  Highly principled, my dad expected me and my ugly brother to be the same.  He taught us right from wrong and lived it day after day.  There was no room to wiggle when it came to the rules.  Integrity was paramount.

Even when it came to bologna.

Until I became an adult, I was unaware of the financial difficulties my parents often experienced when I was a child.  For instance, I was utterly unaware that the yard sales we occasionally had were done not just to get rid of unwanted stuff, but also served as a way to get grocery money.  I guess that is the way it should be.  Burdening children with financial woes can give them feelings of insecurity.  My parents understood this and kept quiet about the times when the months outlasted the money.

Even though they didn’t unload their struggles onto our shoulders, my parents would sometimes inform me and my ugly brother that the food that they bought at the grocery store had to last all week.  My ugly brother and I were sometimes slow on the up-take, so they often had to specify exactly what they meant. 

Once when I was about ten years old, I remember one week in particular when they told us that our food had to last that they focused specifically on bologna.  My ugly brother and I both loved bologna.  We would eat bologna like dogs eat cat poop.  Okay–bad analogy.  The point is that we couldn’t get enough of it.

This did not go unnoticed by Mom and Dad.  They told us to limit our bologna in-take; to only eat it on sandwiches.  And to only use one slice when we ate it on sandwiches.

This was a big deal for us since we had recently begun using two slices of bologna on our bologna sandwiches.  Now, after tasting how much better two slices were than one, they wanted us to scale back?  It might be difficult, but since I knew it was for the greater good I determined to follow the deliciousness denying instructions.

I had no problem following the one-slice-per-sandwich rule.  Until Sunday.

We usually went to Mamaw’s house after the morning church service, but that day we went straight home.  On the way there, my ugly brother and I were informed that lunch was going to be simple.  Just make yourself a sandwich and get some chips.  This was a far cry from the ridiculously enormous amount of food usually served up by Mamaw, but that was okay.  We had bologna.

As I made my sandwich, a desire built within me to do the unthinkable.  My stomach began lusting for two slices of bologna.  TWO SLICES!  When I reached into the package of processed meat I couldn’t help myself.  I picked up two slices and put them on once piece of bread, quickly covering it with the other.

The guilt set in immediately.  I had gone against direct instructions from my parents.  I felt terrible, but the taste of the bologna as I began eating pushed the guilt aside.

Until Dad asked me if I had two slices of bologna on my sandwich.

It was time to come clean; to admit my dastardly deed.  Instead–I lied.  I told him that I had only put one slice of bologna on my sandwich.  He believed me.  And I felt terrible.

The rest of the afternoon I experienced a type of guilt that I had never experienced before.  It was deep and heavy in my gut and I felt like vomiting, like I had overeaten at an IHOP.  Not only had I broken the bologna rule, I had also lied about it to the man I wanted most to please.

I went to the evening church service with my parents with the weight of the world upon my shoulders and it felt like the whole congregation was looking at me.  The pastor, whose voice was big and fierce and boomed like thunder, must have known what I had done.  I’m not sure what the main topic of his sermon was, but I know that he mentioned lying and when he did he looked right at me.  Or that was how it felt.

We returned home after the service was over.  After eating a light supper, Dad went to bed.  I sat in my room with the memories of my misdeeds playing on a loop in my mind.  Why had I gotten two slices of bologna?  Why had a lied to my dad?  I couldn’t go to bed like this.

I walked into my parent’s room.  Dad was already snoring.  I shook him gently.

As he awoke and looked at me with those eyes that were so often filled with love and pride for his boys, I began crying.  He opened his eyes wider, sat up in the bed, and pulled me into my arms.  My words came out in a rush.

“Daddy, I ate two slices of bologna on my sandwich today even though you told us to only use one and when you asked me about it I lied and I’m sorry and if you forgive me I promise to never do it again and won’t ever lie to you again either and…”

Before I could ramble any further, Dad pulled my body away from his, looked me at me gently, and said three beautiful words.

“I forgive you.”

The guilt left.  Tears of sorrow became tears of joy.  I buried myself in my father’s arms.

I was forgiven. 

My dad’s response is similar to the response that God has when we come to him seeking forgiveness.  He forgives freely, takes us into his arms gently, and restores what was broken.  Guilt flees as grace reigns.

And it feels so good.

(Have you experienced forgiveness and grace from a family member or friend?  Do you have story to share?  Go ahead–it won’t hurt.”

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