Rhonda Herrington Bulmer
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October 18th, 2013
A change will do you good
by Rhonda Herrington Bulmer

When I was in middle school, I used to steal money from my mother’s handbag. It hung on the wall next to a shelving unit that organized all her bills. She was never up that early in the morning, so I felt safe in reaching into her wallet and withdrawing two dollars here, five or ten dollars there. Not every day, but at least a couple of times a week.

I would take it to school to buy lunch because I was too lazy to make my own in the morning. I would never ask her for the money because I was afraid she would say no, since we were not wealthy. I thought my thrifty mom was more likely to say, “there’s plenty of food here, get up and make your lunch.”

I didn’t want to be that organized. I wanted to walk downtown with my friends and buy my lunch at a greasy spoon. As days went on, I felt a growing surge of guilt, but I would push it aside because I was succeeding in my goal and satisfying my desires.

This went on for a couple of months. The longer it continued, I worried about the consequences—knowing stealing was wrong didn’t stop me from doing it.

Until one day, Mom confronted me. The day of reckoning had arrived.

I walked in the door after school and she greeted me, not in her usual cheery way. She had been waiting for me.

“Rhonda, I want to talk to you,” she said, inviting me to sit down in the green paisley rocking chair in the living room. She pulled the ottoman up close and sat down to face me, clasped her hands together on her knees. “Have you been taking money from my purse?” she asked.

Point blank, just like that. Perhaps I was a sneaky kid, but not a very good liar. I couldn’t baldly stare at her and deny it. What was the point? I had my fun, but it was over.

I burst into tears and confessed everything.

An embarrassing conversation followed. She worried that I might be exhibiting the first signs of kleptomania. “Have you stolen from anyone else? Have you stolen from stores before? Do we need to get you some help?”

Her disappointment in me was mortifying. I knew the standard she had set for me—honesty, integrity—and I missed it. I shook my head and wept, promising I would never do it again while in my head, I wanted the discussion to be over. I hoped there would be no long-term consequences. She was just the type to send me to a shrink in order to “nip this thing in the bud.”

I pleaded enough with her to convince her that I didn’t have a psychological problem: I was just taking money so that I could buy chicken soup and candy at the Zeller’s snack bar.

I thought about this event recently as I was pondering the meaning of repentance. To repent is a much bigger word than we understand in our common experience. Merriam Webster defines it as follows:

1. to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life

2. a :  to feel regret or contrition  b :  to change one’s mind

No, I think repent is a revolutionary word. I like definition 2b: to change one’s mind. It’s one thing to feel sorry about something, but what are we actually sorry for? Maybe we are just sorry we got caught. Would I have stopped taking money if she hadn’t confronted me? Maybe not. The fear of punishment may elicit behaviour changes, but not necessarily our desires or compulsions.

To change one’s mind is a deeper thing. It’s a change of conviction resulting in a change of behaviour. Such conviction comes from within—it is a matter of the heart and cannot be coerced.

Therefore, I would consider repentance a miraculous event. How often do any of us truly change our minds?

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

Matthew 3:1-3



One Response to “A change will do you good”

  1. Kathy Mercure says:

    Oh my, I have such a similar story, only I did bald-face lie. My mom confronted all three of us youngest kids and told us that if the money wasn’t back in her purse by the time she got home, she would take away all of our allowances. The others were too young to care, but not only did I feel terrible about what I’d done to her, but to my siblings. I actually just wrote a little story about that a while back too. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one who feel regret/contrition and to change my mind. (Years later my mom and I talked about it and the shame lifted…)

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