Last week I walked through the doors of my favorite store, ready to spend a couple of hours leisurely browsing, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I had only been there a few minutes — I don’t even think I had touched anything yet — when the manager came over. “Excuse me,” he said. “Every time you come we have problems, so you need to leave.”
I was so confused. I’ve been to this store many times, but none of the employees had ever told me I caused problems. Surely he was joking. I said, “I’m still waiting for the punch line.”
“No, I’m very serious,” he replied.
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve spent hours — and quite a bit of my paycheck — at this store. I love this place. And here I was scrambling to prove to the manager that I should even be allowed in the building.
Apparently someone had slipped out the door with a shoplifted item a few weeks earlier, and the manager was sure it had been me. I told him over and over that it couldn’t have been. Finally, he narrowed his eyes and looked closer at me. “OK,” he said. “You seem to be telling the truth. Sorry about this. Have a nice day.”
And with that, my accuser walked away, returning to his normal routine.
But I couldn’t. The unfairness of the conversation hung over me.
I stood there in that aisle, shaken, realizing how close I came to being banned from my favorite store because of something I never did.
Just Not Fair
In February 2006, a white police officer arrested a black man for drug charges. The officer bent a few policies to make sure the suspect would be sentenced. The suspect, Jameel McGee, was found guilty.
But he wasn’t guilty.
“For the next three years,” Jameel later wrote, “not a day went by that I didn’t think about my son who I had never seen and the cop that kept me from him. And for most of those three years, I promised myself that if I ever saw that cop again, I was going to kill him.”
The officer, Andrew Collins, was eventually found out as a dirty cop. Jameel’s conviction was overturned, he was released, and it was Andrew who found himself in prison.
Andrew served his time and returned to the small town in Michigan that both men called home. God worked miracles in both of their hearts, and a few years later, Andrew and Jameel were friends. They worked together in a nonprofit coffee shop and coauthored a book about their story.
“I didn’t deserve [Jameel’s] love,” Andrew wrote. “I didn’t deserve his forgiveness or his friendship or his love.”
Jameel McGee had served three years in prison for a crime he never committed.
To some extent, we all know what injustice feels like, though hearing stories like Jameel’s make ours pale in comparison.
Maybe someone thinks we broke a promise we don’t remember making. Maybe they think we made up a story to get a day off work. Maybe they insist we intentionally rear-ended them.
If Jameel could give grace to his unjust accuser, there is hope for us, too.
A New Heart
I’m not sure I’m ready to go back to my favorite store yet. I want to, but I don’t want the manager or employee to recognize me as the-girl-who-causes-trouble.
Jameel and Andrew’s story reminds us that, with God, we can forgive the people who unjustly accuse us. But there is an even deeper reason why we should forgive.
Standing in that store aisle, my heart hammering inside me, I felt many things. Afraid, maybe. Annoyed that I, a loyal customer, had been so close to being banned from my favorite store. And ashamed.
Ashamed to be seen as a shoplifter, a thief. Even though I wasn’t “one of those.”
Over 2,000 years ago, the Son of God allowed Himself to be hung on a cross, the most shameful form of death possible. Jesus agreed to become “one of us” and He took our shame for us. He stood in our place, and all the accusations against us fell on Him.
We tell ourselves the gospel so often that it’s easy to forget. Like the servant in Jesus’ parable, I’ve been forgiven a quintillion-dollar debt. How can I hold grudges over pennies?
So I’m sure I’ll find my way back to my favorite store again soon. Maybe I’ll leisurely browse the aisles like I had planned last time. Free of shame. Full of a forgiveness I’ll never deserve.