For a year or two or maybe more (I’m honestly not sure how long) I stole a fair amount of money from my employer.
Until this last week, I never told anyone this. I think I mentioned in passing I had stolen some money but certainly not the extent of it or the details of it. I didn’t think about it much and I definitely didn’t want to talk about it. After a while I sort-of forgot about it. But since this spring I’ve been working for the same fast food restaurant that I stole from (the same chain anyway; not the same store) and I have been thinking a lot about how different I am now.
As I said, I’m not sure how long it went on. I don’t remember when it started, although I know it continued until I left my job there. I worked there for over five years but it didn’t go on the entire time. You see, at some point I realized that there was a $2.00 margin of error on every till. That wasn’t news, that was something you learned when you got your job. I was very good at counting change and I knew I was never anywhere near that mark so it occurred to me, what if I just took 75 cents out of every till I was on? I would never be written up for it, it couldn’t even really be commented on because it was below my margin of error. Who comments on 75 cents? And it’s not like it was ever exactly 75 cents. I would never be exact, of course and I kept careful track of everything. I generally knew exactly where I would be at by the end of the day.
Perhaps ironically my manager’s dedication to managing money well gave me a great deal more access. My till was changed every time I went on my lunch because we had had problems with people stealing larger sums of money in the past. I also occasionally gave people ten minute breaks and we did not change tills for that. On average I had access to a minimum of three tills per day. $2.25 per day, 5 days a week. It doesn’t sound like much but if you multiply that by 52 weeks, it’s $585. That’s not exact, of course. There were holidays and I occasionally took days off but it isn’t far off. For several months I was a manager on an overnight shift, which meant it was my job to count down all the tills from the day. 7, 8, 9 tills. I can’t remember the exact number but it was a fair amount. Figure the low end and that’s quite a tidy extra sum just during those few months. No one ever questioned me or caught me. As I said, who would question 75 cents? It’s too low to track.
Truthfully I think it’s possible that it wasn’t caught just because my manager liked me. I thought it even then, which did make me feel bad. I was a very reliable employee and I got along well with everyone. I had a number of problems as an employee (aside from my rampant stealing :P) which I may talk about in another post but in a fast food place showing up pretty much every single day on time counts for a lot. I find that has not changed a number of years down the line.
The reason I wanted to talk about this though was because of how I felt about it. It’s because of why I didn’t tell anyone all those years and why I don’t mind talking about it now. It has a lot to do with God. You see, I was very afraid of being caught. Partly I was afraid of being caught because I loved my manager and I knew she liked me and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much she would hate me if she found out. So whenever I thought about it, I dreaded that. But I also dreaded people thinking I was a bad Christian, I dreaded having to make restitution (which I was sure would be a lot, although I had pretty intentionally not kept track of how much). When my father became a real true Christian, he went back to his hometown and paid for a book he had stolen when he was in like jr. high. Because that’s the sort of thing Jesus wants you to do. I did not want to do that.
Notice what I didn’t feel that bad about? I didn’t feel bad about actually doing it. This is a recurring pattern in my life growing up. God never succeeded in making me feel bad about actually doing the sin but I’d get to the point of one step removed. In other words, I would feel bad for not feeling bad. I would feel very afraid of being caught, very afraid of the consequences, very afraid of people seeing who I was and despising me… but I didn’t feel bad about the actual act. And this is a complicated pickle. You can’t repent for something you don’t feel truly sorry for. But how can you be a Christian if you don’t repent for your sins? Many of the things I grew up doing, particularly while I lived at home, were sins of survival. I did not feel bad for them and that seems exceptionally reasonable to me even now. I believe we have core instincts that go much deeper than we realize until our backs are against the wall. But this was not a matter of survival. I didn’t use this money to buy food, I used it to buy Buffy DVD’s and Anne Rice books. I did this because I could. It had a compulsive element to it. I feared being caught but not enough to stop. I felt smart, after all no one else had thought of this.
Then one day I quit my job. I found a new one that didn’t have that margin of error. When the opportunity wasn’t there, I stopped and I think the most I’ve stolen since then is a package of razors one time from my work in a medical clinic. For about a year or so after I left the job I would think about the money sometimes and I would feel very afraid. Not because I was afraid of being caught (I knew that was not a concern) but because I was afraid that the only way to be a good Christian was to go back and tell them exactly what I had done and offer to pay it all back. Otherwise God would someday hold it up as why I didn’t really know him, didn’t really care about him. And maybe he’d be right. But eventually I stopped thinking about it. I never told anyone. I haven’t thought about it at all until these last few months. What I find myself thinking is that I would never do that now. And it has nothing to do with God at all.
I grew up being taught what baby Christians are always taught. “Without God there is no morality.” The simplified version of this is truly disgusting; it basically boils down to that atheists have no morality whatsoever because they don’t have God in their lives. There are people who update this out of necessity (you know, so they have an argument to give people who actually have contact with someone outside church walls) and the updated argument is that atheists may have morality but it still comes from God, they just don’t know it. This is an obnoxious argument. But what I can say for my own life is that God never succeeded in giving me any sense of morality at all. Religion told me a great many things that were right and wrong and I learned all of the dos and don’t’s but they were tangled in a lot of confusion and shame and expectation. I began to very much want to do the right thing the day I realized that I believed people were good and were not evil as I had always believed. The moment I believed that it became imperative to try to do the right thing because we were all in the same boat.
With or without God, we were all here, actively here. We are all we’ve got. As Angel says “If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. Because, if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.” In a lifetime of faith, nothing compelled me like that.
I no longer feel any particular need to make restitution. My managers are long gone from the corporation and I don’t worry about the company suffering or a god weighing me in the balance. It feels like another lifetime and I suppose in a way it was. I am very relieved to be in this one. I don’t believe it’s wrong to steal because of a book. I think it’s wrong to steal because we’re what we have on this planet. I think that the things that are wrong to do are wrong because we are connected and those things hurt all of us. But I didn’t know that until I stopped looking fearfully up and started looking at what was actually in front of me.