New Year's Day 2000 was as beautiful as any day I could remember. No planes had fallen from the sky, no terrorist bombs had exploded, our water was still running strong, and the day was clear and warm. It felt good to be working outdoors doing leisurely chores with Peggy. I had just installed a new shop light in the garage and was putting away my tools when fifteen-year-old Bernard walked through the door. I was startled by his size. He had grown a full four inches in the past few months and I now had to look up at him. "Hey, Mr. Bob, can I have the hoops?" he asked. "Ricky's dad said he'd come down to the court."
The ball court agreement, negotiated arduously with the kids on the street, required that a responsible adult be on site to supervise play. The removable goals, which were kept in my garage, could be checked out whenever the kids could talk an adult into court duty. I was pleased that Mr. Mays was going to spend the afternoon playing with the young people. I was not sure, however, that I could accept Bernard's word at face value. I had heard that Bernard had recently made a commitment of his life to Christ and that there was a noticeable change in his behavior but prior experience made me reluctant to trust him. "Have Mr. Mays come and pick up the goals," I told him, choosing to follow the letter of the law.
A few minutes later fifteen-year-old Ricky Mays appeared at my garage door. "My dad is waiting. Can I get the hoops?" Ricky is one of those kids I could always trust. From the time he was a little tyke, the value of honesty was deeply instilled in his personality. I handed him the goals without hesitation.
Half an hour or so later Peggy and I decided to return a borrowed rake to a neighbor down the street. Our walk took us past the ball court. Several kids were engaged in a vigorous game of basketball but there was no adult anywhere in sight. Bernard and Ricky had obviously conspired together to deceive me into giving them the goals in violation of our agreed upon rules. I was furious! With an anger fueled by too many years of deceptions by too many conniving people, I marched onto the court, confronted the culprits publicly and ordered them to immediately take down the goals. Their protests went unheeded. Their imploring "We wouldn't lie to you, Mr. Bob" I rejected as one more manipulative ploy.
I was both relieved and a bit embarrassed when the boys pointed to Mr. Mays walking down the street toward the ball court. He apologized for his delay - a small family matter had arisen, he said. The game resumed and I headed back to our house, troubled by the whole incident and wondering if I had wrongly accused Bernard and Ricky. The boys shouldn't have started play without an adult present - they knew that. Yet, Mr. Mays could have told them to go ahead, that he would be right down.
The more I thought about it as the afternoon passed, the more I became convinced that I had indeed been wrong in the way I handled the situation. I had no reason to assume that Ricky had deceived me. Why had I not given him the benefit of the doubt? And why could I not give Bernard the grace to believe that his religious conversion was authentic? I kept seeing the hurt look in the boys' eyes when I blew off their "We wouldn't lie to you, Mr. Bob" plea.
With a heavy heart I walked back to the ball court. I waited for a momentary lull in the game and then asked the boys to gather around. I confessed to them all, but specifically to Bernard and Ricky, that I had been out of line, that I had no reason to come down on them the way I had. And to Ricky I admitted how wrong I had been to falsely accuse him of lying to me and told him how sorry I was. The boys were quick to forgive and even quicker to resume their play. I headed home with a somewhat lighter heart, though with the gnawing awareness that deep within my spirit lay the residue of disappointments from decades of deceits, sediment that discolors relationships. Bernard and Ricky were merely the latest victims of my skeptical heart.
The following day in church I was still pondering what cure there might be for this chronic contamination of my soul. As the congregation offered in unison the prayer of confession, it was as though God himself had prepared the words for me.
Here we are, Lord, only two days into the new millennium. It feels as if we should be forming new ways to live in this period of history, yet already we wonder about sustaining whatever meager resolutions we have made. Few of us are optimistic about the possibility of real change in our lives. Forgive us, Lord, for such cynicism. Forgive us for believing that the change needed must come from ourselves. Forgive us for not being more open to the change Your love can make in our life. Let this be for us a New Year of openness to Your love in Jesus Christ, and to the change He can effect in us. We pray in His name. Amen.