My son had his bike stolen the other evening. It’s actually my bike. I bought it in 1993. Spent a lot of money on it. If you have kids, have you ever noticed how many of your things wind up being their things? Kids seem to have a knack for appropriating their parents’ belongings. I don’t remember officially giving my bike to my son and I don’t remember when he stopped saying “your bike” and started saying “my bike.” Come to think of it, I’d forgotten it ever was my bike. How do kids do that? Genius. Little thieves who steal your stuff right in front of you and then make you forget it was ever yours. I wonder what other things I previously owned are up in his room at this very moment. If I weren’t so afraid of the smell of teenage boy socks and gym shorts, I’d go up there and look right now.
Anyway, my son had his bike stolen the other evening. Wait a minute…I mean my bike. His older sisters were out walking the dog near Rec Park and my son wanted to scare them. He laid his bike down in the bushes and ran ahead to jump out from behind something and holler “Boo!” Makes me proud. I love scaring people and so does he. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Hmmmm. Tree…… Makes me think of a really nice hatchet I once had. Haven’t seen it in a long time. I’ll bet I know where it is……little thief.
In the short time my son was waiting to scare the socks off my girls, someone grabbed his bike. Uggghhh…..my bike. He ran home to tell me and immediately I grabbed my car keys and started driving around town, just hoping I might catch the crook. Vigilante justice. A posse of one. It felt good. My senses were on high alert. Don’t worry, I know what God says in Deuteronomy 32:35 – Vengeance is mine. I didn’t want vengeance, just my bike. Well, I kind of wanted to scare the crook enough to make him fall off the bike and skin his knees. I don’t think God ever said “causing skinned knees is mine,” so I think I’m OK.
Wouldn’t you know it – after just a few minutes of driving around I saw three teenage boys brazenly sauntering through a parking lot in town, one of them on a bike that looked surprisingly like a bike I previously owned. I pulled up alongside them and rolled the passenger window down. “Hey,” I said in the gruffest, hardest voice I could manage, “I want my bike back.” (I didn’t tell them it was actually my son’s, that he stole it from me first). “This is my bike,” came the snotty response from the pipsqueak riding it. “No it’s not,” I said, “and you know it. I want it NOW” I growled. Know what the kid said next? “We were just taking it to the police station to turn it in.” Huh. Who knew these thieves all had honest hearts of gold underneath their tough exteriors?
I got out of my van and walked up to the kids. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” I said. “I’m going to open my back door, you are going to put that bike in my van, and then you’re going to run. If you’re still here by the time the door closes, I’m calling the police.” The kid on the bike wilted, though he didn’t fall in a heap and skin his knees. In a pretty pathetic, shaky voice, he said, “OK, OK, just relax. You can have it.” And he did as he was told, putting my bike in the back of my van. Except he didn’t then run. He just nervously started walking away. “That ain’t a run,” I said. “I’m serious, I will call the police. Run.” And he did.
I climbed in my van and started driving home, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I had just stared down three hardened criminals and served sweet justice. I felt proud of myself for not calling the police but choosing to grant them mercy instead. Maybe they’d think about that as they headed home, a trip which would take a bit longer because they didn’t have a hot bike to ride.
Sigh. I’d give anything to turn back time and start that confrontation all over again. Oh, I’d still take my bike…my son’s bike….my bike back from them. But I wouldn’t tell them to run. I would tell them to stop running. I would lower my voice and soften my tone. Because I blew it….again. How many times have I failed to treat people as God has treated me?
In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of a man forgiven of a great debt who then goes out and refuses to forgive a debt owed to him. The first debt-forgiver heard of this and threw the unforgiving man in prison. You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? The unforgiving servant was thrown in prison, and Jesus says, “so also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Those boys had no right to take my bike, and I had every right to take it back. I was not in the wrong on that. But I shouldn’t have told them to run. My hunch is they’ve been running from things a long time. Maybe they’re running from bad homes, where mom and dad don’t love them and don’t give them any attention. Maybe they’re running from the pain of having few friends. Maybe they’re running because they’re tired of being misjudged and mistreated. Maybe they’re running because of previous encounters with guys like me – guys amped up on adrenaline who care only for themselves and their things.
Oh, there is no excuse for their sin. But maybe if my heart had been filled with an ounce of compassion rather than a pound of bravado, I would have had the young thief put my bike in my car and then ask him, “Are you OK? Anything I can help you with?” And then I would have had his attention. And I could have said, “I forgive you for taking my bike. You know why? Because I’ve been forgiven of much worse things, by a man who is infinitely kinder and better than me. Have you ever heard of Jesus?”
Jesus once forgave a woman caught in adultery. She was about to be stoned to death. He pardoned her and told her to go and sin no more. I’ll bet it wasn’t bravado or anger or callousness she heard in Jesus’ voice. I’ll be she heard compassion and love and tenderness. When I sent the bike thieves on their way, all I said was “You better run.” As she left, I’ll bet the woman who escaped a stoning felt differently about Jesus than those bike thieves felt about me….
Here is something I’ve learned about myself and I am reminded of it over and over and over: if I am not, moment by moment, intentionally setting my heart and mind to think and act and love like Jesus, then I will make the mistake of thinking and acting and loving like my sinful self. And I may even tell precious made-in-the-image of God teenagers to run away from me rather than encouraging them to stop running and turn to Jesus.
I’m glad my son got his bike back and I am glad he enjoys it. Those bike thieves took a pretty low road when they stole it. But I fear I took an even lower one when I got it back.