I left my house the other night without children. WITHOUT CHILDREN. If I’m being honest with me, I say I am getting really bad about doing things for me; or, if I’m feeling like a pity party, I tell myself it’s a season, and they will soon go away and I can go to the movies any time I please.
Which will likely be thrice weekly, supposing there’s anything interesting playing.
So I went to see Les Miserables with a friend. I had extra napkins, I was ready. Because really, when you are going to see a musical where everybody dies, you need to be prepared. I was ready for The Epic Crying.
I was not ready for The Epic Cry to begin when the bishop gave Valjean the candlesticks.
I should back up. Not everybody has read the novel by Victor Hugo (you really should), nor has everyone seen the musical, even though every professional, semi-professional, amateur, and high school theatre group in the nation has performed it in the last 15 years.
Here’s a little summary: Valjean was in prison for 19 years, 5 of those for stealing bread to feed his sister’s dying child, and 14 more for trying to escape. He gets paroled, and wanders around trying without success to find work, because nobody will hire a dangerous! man! A bishop shows Valjean kindness, offers him food and a place to sleep, and Valjean repays him by stealing most of the silver on the premises. Naturally, Valjean is caught by the local gendarmes, and is brought back to the bishop’s residence. The police tell the bishop that they have recovered his stolen silver, and that Valjean will return to prison, despite his claims that the bishop gave him the silver. Without missing a beat, the bishop tells Valjean that he left in such a rush he must have forgotten the silver candlesticks, how terrible that he forgot the best silver of the collection. The police are terribly confused, but go about their business, and leave Valjean with the bishop.
Valjean stole the silver. His guilt is not debatable. And yet the bishop corroborated Valjean’s story.
Hugo used the character of the bishop to speak the voice of God to Valjean. Hugo got God right. I know I have done some serious silver stealing in my time, not actual silver stealing, of course. I have spoken and behaved in ways that have caused other people grief and hurt, sometimes by accident, sometimes not so accidentally. Sometimes it happens by accident, but the result makes my inner mean girl grin a bit. It’s a really horrible thing to live with, knowing exactly what it feels like to be on the receiving end and at the same time being the person who is handing it out.
I have been given the candlesticks, and not just once. I can see clearly so.many.times. when I have screwed up royally and have been shown beautiful, undeserved mercy. In the same moment, I see so many more times when I have been utterly merciless and it fills me with horrified embarrassment. I don’t understand why I choose unkindness and unforgiveness and mercilessness when I know how it makes me feel to do that, but even more importantly, how it feels to be treated that way. It’s dreadful.
I am meditating on Micah 6:8 this year:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Intentional mercy. Intentional forgiveness. Intentional kindness. Intentionally training myself upward.