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Monday, September 19, 2011

Footprints in the Garden

My dad had an elevated flower bed behind my house, next to a handmade compost pile, where he experimented with raising different kinds of vegetables.  It was edged in wide wooden slabs of tree trunks, called railroad ties, because they are the sort of thing the metal tracks are laid on. One year, when my sister and I were still very young, he took the two of us went out to spend an entire afternoon tilling and loosening the soil, removing weeds, fertilizing and leveling the ground, and preparing it for seeds.  By the time we were ready for the planting stage, it was very late and Dad was tired.  He went inside to rest, leaving us with a simple but firm injunction, "Don't play in the flower bed or step in it.  If I catch you throwing dirt or undoing all of this work, I'm going to punish you and you won't be allowed to help me plant the seeds tomorrow."

It wasn't as if there was nothing else to play with.  We had a swing set, a sandbox, and plenty of other toys to string out, and since the sun was going down, we weren't going to be out there much longer, anyway.  However, the seriousness of Dad's command quickly wore off, and I (being the oldest and the leader) said, "If we walk on the edging, we won't really be playing in the flower bed.  It's like a balance beam in gymnastics!"  Very quickly we were walking around the U shape.  When we got to the top part of the U, we jumped across to the other side and went around again.  The first two times were fine, but the third time I jumped across, I slipped, and my foot sank deeply into the soft tilled earth.

"Dad said not to step in the garden!" my sister reminded me.

"I know.  I'll get the rake and fix it up again in a minute," I said.  She was confident that I knew what I was doing, so the game continued.  Then she lost her balance and put both feet in the garden, leaving two more distinct footprints.

"I can fix that, too," I assured her, and we continued circling, each tripping a few times on the way around.  Soon, there were lots of footprints everywhere.

"Girls, dinner time.  Come inside!" we heard mom call from the back door.  I jumped down and started hastily scratching the dirt to try to loosen it, but I only managed to cover up one small footprint before I heard Mom's voice, much closer now, saying, "Hey, I don't think your Daddy wanted you to mess around in there.  Come."

It was so dark that I realized she hadn't seen the footprints in the garden.  I cast one more anxious look that direction, and went inside.

I worried about those footprints all through dinner, and even when I was being tucked into bed that night.  My plan was to go out, somehow, before Dad got up in the morning and try to fix that mess before he saw it.  I had to--I so badly wanted to help plant the seeds!  But my conscience was so deeply pricked that I couldn't sleep.

I finally had to admit to myself that I was definitely going to get caught.  It was only a question of when.  If I told my dad now, I knew I would probably get punished, but maybe he would go easier on me, or even let me help plant the seeds.  I got back up, ignoring my sister's angry protests against "telling,"  and went alone to the living room.

Dad looked a little stunned at this sudden midnight confessional.  He listened to the whole story (told through tears), and finally said, "Rachel, I'm proud of you for being a grown-up and telling me the truth.  You do know that I still have to punish you.  I told you what I was going to do if you did that, and you did it anyway."

I nodded my head and submitted to the punishment.  No, I wasn't going to get to help plant the seeds, and yes, I was going to undergo a spanking--a very brief, light-handed one that was more ceremony than anything else.

When I went back to bed, I felt better.  What a weird thing, considering that I had just been punished and banished from the garden.  As I lay awake, I started thinking about my Sunday school lessons and how Adam and Eve did something very similar when they ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).  I realized that even if they had immediately confessed, God would have had to punish them for what they had done, in the same way that He ended up doing it.  Adam and Eve had broken a direct command, and confessing, or giving God all the reasons why they did it, wouldn't have undone the damage.  He had to punish them, or His rules weren't really rules to be respected, and His threatened punishments would have been lies.  God isn't a liar.  He keeps His word, even when keeping that word hurts Him.  That is justice.

On the other hand, when Adam and Eve didn't immediately confess to their crimes and submit to the punishment, they were adding some extra sins to their record.  They had enough nerve to think they could trick God out of punishing them, which is the sin of lying, and they tried to accomplish that by covering themselves with leaves.  Later, they tried to hide from God, which is an insult to God's all-seeing power and His justice.  Then, when God found them, they had the nerve to lie to God and blame others for their own actions.  They never apologized, and never seemed to be sorry about what they had done, throughout the whole exchange.

So what would they have gained from telling the truth from the start?  One, giant thing, only.  Their relationship with God would not have suffered so badly.  All those delays and additional sins compounded the problem, and didn't avert punishment, really.  These additional sins also disappointed and hurt their closest Friend, and fostered in their own hearts an unreasonable resentment against a punishment they brought upon themselves.  If they'd gone immediately to God and confessed, they would have found approval for that honesty, and they would have understood the mercy of God, which is even seen in the way He punishes sin.

Confessing to sin and taking responsibility doesn't make the need for punishment go away, and it doesn't make punishment hurt less.  However, it does positively change the nature of the relationship between us and God (or us and our fellow man) going forward.  This is why confession is good.  It brings an understanding of justice and the truly loving nature of God--a God who simply keeps His word, even when we make choices that bring the promised punishments upon ourselves.  If we understand justice, it opens the way for total reconciliation and healing through God's Son, Jesus Christ.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.--Proverbs 28: 13 NIV
Today, if you have some dirty footprints hanging over your head, and you are dreading the revealing light of day, I beg of you, for your own sake, to confess quickly, before the sun comes up.  You won't gain anything by staying silent, but you will find mercy and approval, leading to reconciliation with God, if you make amends quickly.  Don't wait.  Don't hesitate.  Get up and settle this now!

Do you have any stories like this one?  I welcome you to share in the comments section, or write about it on your own blog and share the link in the comments so I can go read it.  As always, thank you for reading!