He was probably 12 years old, he was distraught, trying to hide inside his shirt. He still had his bike helmet on, and he was pacing.
The three women working in the convenience store had him well and truly bailed up. They’d locked the front doors so that customers, in order to get in, had to go around the side. They were not letting him out.
It was the kind of dishevelled looking tradie in the bakery, with my son and I, who told us why.
The boy had been caught shoplifting – the three women, employees, in the store were letting people in, but not letting the boy out till the police arrived.
Another woman, clearly a mum, and I looked at each other,
“They can’t do that surely? You can’t hold a child like that. They can’t do that.”
I walked my son back to the car where my husband and his two kids were waiting.
I was struggling to hold back the tears.
The other woman was waiting outside the shop too. I think in the look we exchanged we’d both decided we had to do something.
“I think I have to go back and do something.”
My husband says he didn’t hear what I said.
I was upset – the tears were blurring my vision. The lump in my throat was massive, maybe it overwhelmed my vocal chords which is why he didn’t hear me.
All the while, one phrase from the tradie in the bakery, repeated in my ears.
“No one at home’s looking after him if he has to steal his lunch.”
I think I said it again – maybe I only thought it.
“I have to go back and do something. I’m going to go and pay for it.”
In hind sight it doesn’t make much sense to someone who didn’t have the full story.
I guess my husband was wondering if I’d lost it, had I just stolen something? I have been under a fair bit of stress lately. I was obviously upset enough to go back to sort something out.
I walked back to the front door where the other woman was still waiting. One employee in the store gestured to the side door. I could enter there. So I did.
There he was – someone’s son. He was distraught, trying to hide his head inside his Year 6 shirt. He still had his bike helmet on, and he was pacing, and sobbing, and at one point banging his head on the wall in the store.
“Can I pay for whatever he was taking?”
She stared at me.
I repeated myself, waving my keycard at her.
“Can I pay for what he’s taken?”
“No, he stole it.”
“But can I pay for it – then you can let him go.”
She stared at me… open mouthed.
“Why not? Why can’t I pay, then it’s paid for.”
One of the other employees left her place at the door. By now my husband had joined me – clearly I was up to something. He wasn’t sure what, then another person entered as well.
I guess at that point I became the difficult one or at least a diversion for the boy who was sobbing, bike helmet on, face cocooned in his shirt, trying desperately to vanish.
A second employee came over to me.
I asked her, “can I please pay for what he took?”
“No, he stole it, he ran out of the shop, we caught him and brought him back. He needs to learn.”
“Why won’t you let me pay for it?”
“It’s stolen you can’t – we’ve already called the school and the police .. “
“So … you seriously won’t let me pay?”
I’m not sure if, at this point, I asked “what is wrong with you?” That sounds like something I’d do.
I guess at that point I’d created so much of a diversion that the boy saw him moment, seized it, and exited the shop.
Not sure if this is a good or bad thing.
I offered to pay once more, I was greeted with “No, he needs to learn.”
At that point we also left the shop – through the side door. I was dumbfounded.
My mind was racing through the scenarios – if he is a repeat offender then they know who he is, there was no need to have him locked in the store, especially when he was clearly so distressed.
If this was his first offence I seriously doubt he’ll ever visit the store again, much less steal from it.
At any rate once he left the shop, he then ran into the other woman outside and she checked if he was okay – he wasn’t – but he jumped on his bike and, we assume, rode to school.
Our drive to school turned into an opportunity for us to talk about God, I hope that the boy who sparked our talk has the same chance to hear about Him.
I have been incredibly saddened today. I feel like that boy missed a chance to see Jesus, he missed a chance to see someone step in and pay his debt, he missed someone being able to set him free, to feed him and send him on his way.
Would it have been a turning point? We can’t tell.
Would it have been a time for him to see what grace looks like? Yes and isn’t that what we are called to do?
We are to love truth and grace, justice and mercy. We are meant to show the world who our Saviour is – who Jesus is ….
The one who came to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, to set the captives free.
Are we not encouraged to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty a drink…?
From the back seat of the car came the voice of my thirteen year old son,
“I’m proud of you Mum, you were trying to do the righteous thing.”
I’m not sure if he has a full understanding of what righteousness is – do any of us?
My distress today is nothing compared to how much it must pain the heart of God to offer His free gift to a broken, destitute, impoverished world, only to be told, “No thanks, I don’t need it.”
I couldn’t help but reflect on how we demand justice and mercy for ourselves but are less willing to demand it for others.
We expect respect for ourselves but often refuse to give it.
We expect to be honoured for who we are, but often fail to honour others.
We want what is ours, and theirs, and are happy to walk away from those who do without.
At the end of the day I can’t get this kid out of my mind … for now.
How long will this sadness remain? I know it will pass all too quickly, it will be a blip on my screen of ease and comfort.
How often does my heart break for the people with whom I share this time, this space and this place in world?
Not often enough I’d say.