The sweet life is often full of little lessons that stay with us for the rest of our life.
Many years ago my family went on a trip to Arizona. Before leaving our small farming community in Idaho, my dad stopped at the Chevron station to fill the car with gas and check the oil and tire pressure before setting off for our vacation of fun in the sun. My sister, Natalie, and I hung out for a few minutes in the small, unattended station’s lobby while dad finished his routine car check.
There in the gray-walled lobby, it stood….a solitary vending machine. We were old enough to know better, but teenage angst got the best of us when Natalie shot out a dare. “I bet you can’t stick your hand in the vending machine and pull something out!” Taking her challenge I replied without hesitation, “I bet I can!” I knew the minute I took the dare it was wrong…very wrong. But I did it anyway.
My thoughts weren’t necessarily on stealing something as much as they were in proving my older sister wrong. There was a thrill involved and I was out to show her I was right. Natalie was the “look-out” while I anxiously stuck my hand up the machine. I wriggled and snaked my hand up as far as it could go. No-go. Then I proceeded with pressing my shoulder into the machine’s lower opening like a contortionist. This gave my slippery fingers just enough leverage to bat something out of the machine.
CLUNK! Out it dropped—a plastic box of orange Tic Tac mints. I looked at the box of fruity mints and could not believe I had swatted an item from the machine! My heart pounded with fear but it wasn’t enough to stop me. Grabbing the box of mints lying on the bottom of the machine and exclaimed to Natalie, “I did it! I did it! I told you I could do it!” Next thing I knew, Natalie took off fast as lightning to the car.
As I stood all alone in the lobby with fingers tightly wrapped around that clear rectangular box, my feat suddenly didn’t feel so wonderful. I looked at those little orange mints staring me in the face and wondered what on earth I had done. What at first felt exhilarating quickly turned to a feeling of guilt. I felt embarrassed. Ugly inside. Ashamed.
Why did I take something I had not paid for?
It was not in my nature to steal. My parents had taught me right from wrong. Nonetheless, I did not have time to reason or make sense of what I had done. I needed to make a quick decision as to what I would do with the candy now that it was stashed in my right palm.
Thoughts Racing Through My Mind
A myriad of thoughts volleyed back and forth like a tennis match in my mind. Do I hide the candy mints in my pocket? Would Natalie tell my parents? Do I find the attendant and pay for the Tic Tacs? I had no money with me. Furthermore, how would I explain to him the method in which I obtained the mints? No one would know.
On and on the thoughts raced through my mind. Seconds later, my next thought stopped me in my tracks. Someone did know. God knew. I loved Him and recognized the instant I took the mints I had disappointed Him. In my heart I knew I couldn’t keep the mints and feel good inside.
I hastily placed the box of Tic Tacs down on the counter next to the unattended cash register, darted to the car as fast as my legs would take me, then jumped into the car crouching down as low as I could on the floor of the backseat. My heart was racing as I tried to catch my breath.
My sister bent down and whispered in my ear, “What did you do with the Tic Tacs?” I burrowed my face into my curled-up body. My neck and face went flush – a sure sign of the shame I felt. I “shushed” my sister while mom asked me what I was doing on the car floor. I made up a bogus answer and told her I was looking for something.
Oh, that’s right….it must have been my honesty I was searching for. Curled up in a little ball seemed like the best way to disappear. Who did I think I was hiding from? The gas attendant… or was it God?
Even though no one from the gas station knew what I had done, I knew God knew and I felt remorseful. While I didn’t keep the orange Tic Tacs, I knew I had fibbed to my mom and shortchanged the gas station’s owner.
The Weight of the Burden
The rest of the day found me feeling a weight upon my chest. I took no pleasure in family conversations, the changing landscapes out the backseat window, or listening to 70’s music playing from our car’s 8-track tape player. I tried to lose my thoughts by flipping through pages of my sister’s Seventeen magazine but this brought no relief from my guilty conscience.
By the time we pulled into a Las Vegas hotel that night, I wanted to crawl into bed and forget the events of the day. But a little impression gnawed in my mind. It told me I needed to make things right with God.
Quietly I crept into the bathroom after everyone had gone to bed and lights were out. Kneeling on a cold, tile floor and prayed to God. I told Him how badly I felt, that I knew what I did was wrong and I was sorry. I made a promise that night that I would never steal again and I asked Him for forgiveness. And, oh, while He was at it, could He please take away the bad feeling I felt inside?
I had a hard time falling asleep that night. As I lay in bed, my thoughts whirled in my head much like the hotel room’s air conditioner buzzing during the night. I kept praying the unpleasant feeling I had would go away. After some restless tossing and turning, I eventually fell asleep.
It’s amazing what a new day and a clearer perspective bring! Upon waking I was immediately aware the heaviness in my chest and negative feeling from the day before had departed–though I still felt sorry for what I had done. I sensed a tangible relief from anguish and believed God accepted my apology and He still loved me and forgave me.
What I was experiencing was a tender conscience. I learned a sensitive conscience was a good thing, even if it disrupted my sleep or ability to enjoy thumbing through a magazine. I felt peace with the person staring back at me in the mirror that morning.
The Sweet Life
To some, taking a small box of mints might not seem like a big deal but I look back at my youth and feel this was a profound experience. It taught me several things: First, that honesty is liberating and builds trust in our relationships. I should have never tried taking the mints or told that white lie to my mother in the car.
A powerful statement by James E. Faust keeps me in check. He taught, “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth-telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” Secondly, I learned repentance brings a beautiful, clear conscience and is accompanied by the wonder of forgiveness. What exquisite gifts!
For awhile, I couldn’t look at a box of orange Tic Tacs without cringing, but now I smile and remember the love I felt from a merciful Father as I approached Him in prayer. As we look to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we can become like Him—striving to do better and be a little better each day.
This takes daily self-evaluation of our thoughts, words, and actions, and a sincere commitment to change and improve. Throughout our development in this life, we discover that possessing integrity makes life sweet, much like a box of sugared orange candy mints.