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The Day I Beat Kleptomania and Became an Honest Man: What Does Choice Really Look Like?

choiceWe live in a day of heartfelt excuse making for human sin. On one side, everything is your “parent’s”[1] fault… of course, their faults are their “parent’s” fault, and so on and so on, ‘til the fault in the world is entirely environment based not heart based. No one is held culpable for the myriads of choices they make. Indeed, we don’t even recognize responses as choices much of the time.

We live in a day when poorly conceived senses of DNA take up the slack for whatever else might be wrong with us when direct causes cannot be isolated in social disharmony. We don’t make choices, we merely follow the coding of our nature. We are not to blame. As the revered Lady Gaga says, “I was born this way.” I doubt she actually popped from the womb wearing a meat-dress, and 6lbs of make-up, but, I wouldn’t want to be judgmental by typing that out loud… oops.

I have been a Christian since the age of five.

Sounds crazy, an adult looking back to choices he made at five as being his own… real faith. Even so, I remember what I was thinking, what was going on in my heart.

Maybe I was just a bigger brat than most five year olds, (If you can get my mother to talk about raising me without her going catatonic or begging for medication, you are welcome to try.) but my sinful nature was apparent to me.

I believed what I learned at church about repentance, about seeking forgiveness, about dedicating myself to be a “disciple” meaning that I dedicate myself to follow Jesus, to be like him, to obey his word. I certainly wasn’t a theologian, who is in elementary school, but my heart’s knowledge was not less sincere for its lack of academic precision. I made a choice for Christ and did my gosh darn best to walk it out… until I hit 14 and went through a two year period of deep heart struggle and confusion… runaway hormones, and growing a foot in one year can do that to a fellow. (See how easy the blame game is?)

Perhaps it was this constant sense of struggle, a keen early consciousness of the difference between divine command and natural impulse that is to blame, but I learned early on what the true nature of choice entails.

In fact, I can remember four specific moments of choice confrontation that I made as I grew up, each of which changed my entire life. They set the course for what kind of person I would be. They broke the temptation toward certain paths that would have led to my ruin. I make no claims to have successfully navigated all such temptations, but I do remember these four.

I’ll discuss one of them today. One might call it “The Day I Beat Kleptomania and Became an Honest Man.”

I was perhaps four, maybe five, when I defeated the temptation to steal. It would be many more years before I confronted my temptation to steel, but that is another story altogether.

My mother had brought me and my three siblings to the house of some people I had never visited before, and we spent the day on their front porch digging through their kids’ toy box and playing. I took a fancy to this little rubber motorcycle guy on a little matchbox type cycle. I wasn’t interested in the little bike, just the guy. I liked the colors, the way it felt, the way the little guy flexed, his awesome helmet and uniform. I was entranced. I wanted it… badly.

I am uncertain how long we actually played on that porch… it seemed an age to me… perhaps it felt longer because of my own internal struggle… but I do know that I spent that time putting the little guy in my pocket, taking it out to gaze upon it, tossing it back into the toy box, digging it out again to put it back into my pocket… over and over and over again. I knew it was wrong to take it. I don’t know how I knew its wrongness. I can’t recall ever getting a specific lesson on theft, but somehow I knew that it wasn’t mine, that it belonged to another, that it would be a violation of something important to breach that relationship between owner and owned. I suspect that it was my own desire to possess what was mine that instinctively told me that stealing was wrong. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” is intuitive to most even if they choose against its quiet bleating.

When it came time to leave, the little guy was in the part of the cycle (no pun intended) where he was in my pocket. We cleaned up our mess as this little guy was burning a hole in my soul. Would I take it? Would I put it back?

The second I made the choice my whole life changed. I reached into my pocket as my mother led me away, pulled out that little guy and ran back onto the closed in porch and tossed it back into the toy box. I almost wondered if those around me heard it break… my heart certainly felt it break… the very temptation to steal. I have never even been tempted to steal another person’s possessions as long as I have lived from that moment on. I want my due, yes. I want what I’ve earned, but I have no interest in taking another person’s things.

There was a commercial running in the 80s that goes, “No one ever says, ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up.’”[2] Yet, the path to being a junkie is paved not just with conscious choices tossed onto the table of reason for contemplation and the weighing of consequences, but also with a myriad of instinctual reactions which are choices just the same.

Are homosexuality, pedophilia, addictions the products of choices? I believe they are. They are the product of a myriad of choices made over years of confronting temptations big and small, of reacting to circumstances brutal and tame.

[1] One may exchange parents with Uncle, Cousin Sally, the creepy next door neighbor, childhood bullies, that mean teacher, etc.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giGkt5oAhT0

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