I knew I was in trouble the moment I slipped the necklace into my pants pocket. I stole it right out of my classmate’s desk during math, and the instant I balled the velvet strand and faux sapphire into my corduroys, I knew I was doomed.
Thou shall not steal.
I was only eight years old at the time, but I knew enough to know that I had committed a mortal sin.
I had an out, of course: the confessional. I could have simply walked into the tiny, dim alcove, drawn the burgundy curtain tight behind me, kneeled before the frosted window and confessed my sin to the priest.
But I couldn’t do it.
Alone in my bedroom I practiced what I would say to the shadowy figure who sat hunched behind the filmy window. But when it came time for the actual confession, I froze. I couldn’t get past the lump of fear in my throat.
The truth was, while I was terrified of eternal damnation, I feared the priest’s judgment more. And worse, I feared what I knew the priest would want me to do.
The penance didn’t scare me. I figured I’d get the standard fare – a handful of Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s on my knees in the quiet church. But I also knew the priest would insist I return the necklace to its rightful owner. I couldn’t bear the thought of the public humiliation. I dreaded my classmate’s disdain and my peers’ ridicule. Word would get out that I had stolen the necklace, and I knew my friends would gossip about me behind my back and mock me.
And so, I chose eternal damnation – and ultimately, estrangement from God – to save face.
I think this is true for a lot of us. While we are vigilant about what we consider the big sins, but we often miss the fact that the smaller, seemingly petty sins can be just as destructive. Coveting led me to steal the necklace in the first place, while pride and fear fueled my refusal to repent. True, I sinned when I stole the necklace. But I sinned again, and kept on sinning, when my pride prevented confession.
In the end, the big, scary, mortal sin wasn’t my biggest problem. Pride, it turned out, was my downfall. It was pride, rather than the theft itself, that severed my relationship with God.
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NLT)
Questions for Reflection:
What small sins are wreaking destruction in your life? Can you think of a time when a seemingly minor sin served to separate you from God?
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