About 25 years ago, when I was about 25, I received an unexpected windfall. At the time, I was working as a Wilderness Camp Counselor, not making much money. One day I opened a piece of mail from my bank, and inside was a check for $15,145.73. That was more than my yearly salary!
I was conflicted about what to do. Of course, it wasn’t my money. But I hadn’t asked for it, so maybe it was like a gift. (Yeah, right!) It was probably a mistake, but it wasn’t my mistake. It was the bank’s error, and they were a big, rich company. They wouldn’t miss it. At least not very much. Maybe it was like that Chance card in Monopoly – “Bank Error in your favor, collect $200.” Except it was much more than $200!
But deep down I knew I should turn the check in to the bank.
But I really wanted to keep that money! That meant the question I needed to ask was not, “Is it right,” but rather, “Can I get away with it?” My friends and I spent a couple of days imagining all the things we could do with $15,000+. We even called British Airways to find out how much it would cost to fly on the Concorde to London.
Finally, I called my mom. You see, my mother was a legal secretary. I told her what had happened, and asked her if she would please run the situation by one of her attorney bosses to see how I could maybe legally keep the money.
My mom’s answer was something like this: “I will NOT! That is not your money. I am disappointed in you. You have always had so much integrity, I can’t believe you would even think about doing something so dishonest. Now go give that check back to that bank!”
The next day, that’s what I did. My mom had jolted me into taking an honest look in the mirror. In Christian terms, I had repented. With our amazing capacity for self-justification and rationalization, we all need to listen closely for those invitations to look in that clear mirror of reality. It’s not comfortable (as I wrote earlier this week), but it is necessary if we are to cast off the shades of self-delusion and see ourselves as we really are – flawed . . .but forgiven.