Guilt Ridden


I rode the mower, and my conscience rode me. We both needed repairs.

I was 13 years old, and Dad had just bought a new lawn mower. This wasn’t your typical push-from-behind lawn mower. It was one of those riding, three-forward-gears-and-two-backward-gears kind. It had electronic ignition and cut a swath about three feet wide. And it had headlights.

That was the problem. I wasn’t used to cutting our four-and-a-half-acre Pennsylvania lawn with a fancy riding mower. I’d been using an old, beat-up rider that Dad bought from one of our neighbors when we moved into our new house. It had only one forward speed and one backward speed. And no headlights. The headlights on our new mower jutted out a bit on either side. And that spelled trouble.

After I’d cut the lawn a couple of times, I was feeling quite confident with the new mower. I was amazed at how I could finish the job in only four hours. But as I was cutting around a group of pine trees that lined part of our driveway, I tried to get a little too close. I didn’t notice a branch that was in the way of the mower. As I went around a certain tree in second gear, I ran right into the branch. It bent the frame around the headlight, knocking the glass cover to the ground, where it lay broken in two.

Panicked, I turned the mower off and jumped down to inspect the damage. It was bad. It was ugly. But it was nothing compared to the tongue-lashing I imagined I’d get from Dad.

I tried and tried to fix the dent near the headlight. With the help of a hammer, I was finally able to pound the dent out and get it close to its original position. Although the metal was dented and the paint was cracked, it would do. But I still had a problem—the glass. The good thing, though, was that a clean break left two pieces that fit nicely together.

I ran into the house and found some tape. I put the pieces of glass together and held them to the headlight. Then I wrapped and wrapped the tape around the light. It wasn’t pretty, but from a distance—like about a hundred yards—you couldn’t tell the difference.

By this time it was getting dark outside, so I went into the house and tried my best to act like nothing had happened.

Weeks passed. And each week as I saw the broken headlight, guilt rode me like I rode the lawn mower. I tried to put the incident out of my mind, but I couldn’t. And because I didn’t dare tell my dad what had happened, the accident left an ugly scar on both the mower and my soul.

Near the end of the summer, the mower had to be serviced. Dad backed up the pickup and put some planks in place for a ramp. He asked me to drive the mower into the back of the pickup. I knew I had to confess. If I didn’t tell Dad what happened soon, he would see it for himself. But I couldn’t get up the nerve. Dad watched me drive the mower up. He said nothing.

All the way to the service center my stomach felt like twisted knots. We dropped off the mower and went home. I thought then that Dad hadn’t noticed the headlight. But I know now that he had.

A week later we went to pick up the mower. I had literally made myself sick over this headlight. The man at the service center drove the lawn mower onto the bed of Dad’s pickup. Dad still didn’t say a thing about the headlight. On the way home, I thought I was going to get sick right then and there. My face felt hot. My palms were sweaty. My mouth was dry. I had to confess.

But all I could get out was “Dad.” Then the tears came. Boy, did they come. I think Dad must have thought I was having an appendicitis attack. It sure felt like I was. He quickly pulled over as he exclaimed, “What’s wrong?”

I cried and cried. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. Dad put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay.

“Dad,” I finally said through my tears and sniffles, “I broke the light on the lawn mower. I’m sorry.”

Dad put the parking brake on, slid next to me, and wrapped his arms around me. He just held me for a minute or two. Then the words I had hoped for—even prayed for—came.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

A wonderful peace came over me as I felt his arms around me and heard his voice say those words. I sobbed some more.

“I didn’t mean to do it. It happened a long time ago. I’m sorry!”

“I know,” he said. “It’s okay.”

A few minutes later, we were sipping strawberry shakes. Dad didn’t have to say anything more. His countenance said it all.

I’ve never forgotten the peace that came over me once I admitted everything. It was so hard to tell Dad I had broken the headlight. But once I confessed, my mind, my spirit, and even my knotted stomach were relieved. I was at peace with myself.

It’s hard to confess our sins to those we’ve offended. But once we get the words out, peace can come in.

There have been times since then that I’ve had to humble myself and confess to the Lord of far more serious wrecks I’ve caused in my life. It’s at these times that I think of a broken headlight, a loving earthly father, and a merciful Heavenly Father.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Sam Lawlor