I was led into the conference room and seated at a massive table that filled most of the room. The solitary item on the table, a tissue box, was the first thing to catch my eye. Foreshadowing shows up in real life too, not just the movies.
I didn’t want to be sitting in this chair interviewing for this job. My mind was on other things, like my upcoming wedding in California in just two short weeks. My fiancé still had one more year before completing his college degree, so I, the bright-eyed recent college graduate was in search of a job to fill the piggy bank of our life together for the coming year.
I’d spent a year in the workforce, teaching health education courses to high school students around the city of Chicago. These courses specifically focused on sexual health with the message of abstinence taking center stage. So here I was, a young 22-year-old woman fresh out of college, newly engaged, traveling around to schools across the city talking about abstinence. And in case you are wondering, yes, I showed the dreaded STD slide to rooms full of hormonal high school students. The training for this job schooled me in ways I’d like to erase from my memory. Even though showing those slides was bad, it wasn’t the worst part. The part that left a pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart was that day after day I was living a lie.
The words of Paul in Romans 7:18-20 sum up how I felt. “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.”
I was tormented by the fact that what I said I believed, what I spent my days talking to students about, was the very thing I was unable, or unwilling, to put into practice in my own life. It was a cycle of making a choice, regretting that choice, confessing that choice to God, and then trying my hardest to not make that choice again. Until I did. The cycle of sin, confession, and repentance continued in what felt like a hamster wheel, never gaining progress in moving forward.
Can you relate? I hope that you can’t but suspect that you do. The condition of the human heart plagues each one of us, and even though the sinful action, thought, or behavior on repeat is something we wished was different, we share in the familiarity of the darkness that lives within us all if we chose to be honest about it. Being honest is the hardest part.
I was teaching abstinence while not remaining abstinent. I was counting the days until this job was complete. Then I would fly from Illinois to California and celebrate my wedding and remedy my guilty conscience. I knew that upon returning from the wedding I would need a new job, so I decided to get a jump start on that process. I assumed it would be easy. I was open to a wide array of jobs. I just needed something to cover our living expenses for the year. I searched far and wide for a job, utilizing all my known connections and still I came up empty-handed. As our wedding grew closer the need for financial security for our future increased. Just two weeks before our wedding a job opportunity found its way to me. It was a job I was not looking for and it was a job I didn’t want. But it was the only job possibility before me.
Let’s get back to the tissue box. I was there in the conference room sitting at that massive table across from a woman who was interviewing me for a job as an abstinence educator to serve the schools in the NW suburbs of Chicago. My experience fit what was needed to be qualified for the job; my current lack of integrity did not. Not very far into the interview, still at the pleasantries stage sharing small bits of information about our lives, the woman spoke up rather abruptly and began making a fuss about the lonely Kleenex box situated directly in front of me.
“Oh, I must apologize! I have no idea why that Kleenex box is in the middle of the table. How tacky. The people before us must have left it there.”
It was as if time stood still. It felt like the room began to spin. I heard a phrase loudly and clearly, yet I knew it was meant for me alone and that no one else could hear it. I knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me.
“Tell her the truth.”
I immediately began to protest—not outwardly, but engaging in the conversation that raged within me. My heart was racing and my palms began to sweat. If internal yelling is a thing, this is what I yelled back at the voice that was beckoning me to expose myself to this stranger. But this is my only option for a job! If I tell her the truth about me I will walk away with nothing.
The kindness of God that I had heard others talk about felt far from me at this moment. It was as if I was walking into the principal’s office waiting for my punishment. Did I think I deserved it? Yes. Did it feel kind? Not so much. I didn’t like my options, but as much as I felt vulnerable and exposed, my fear of God outweighed them all. I knew deep in my gut that I did not want to ignore this directive.
After what felt like a long pause that housed the heated inner dialogue, I broke the silence.
“I know exactly why that tissue box is there. I have something that I need to tell you.”
With tears streaming down my cheeks I shared with this woman exactly why I was the wrong person for the job. I confessed my sin, poured out my honest wrestle of wanting to choose something better, but feeling stuck and alone and falling prey to my sin over and over again. The shame of it all had kept my mouth shut. Although I had continually confessed to God, I was too ashamed to ask others around me for help. I was too proud. I knew better and I could have chosen better. I left my heart and tears on the table that day with this woman who was a stranger. Clearing my conscience through the act of public confession opened up more air in my chest. I now had more room to breathe.
The woman across the table from me sat in silence as I blubbered on. She was kind to listen and stand in the place of a priest that day. I didn’t expect her to fix it, but to receive it. And she did. But she also did more than that. I was surprised by what she said next.
“You are the girl for the job. You’re the one we want.”
This stranger was extending me kindness and grace. That day marked the beginning of a new friendship, one marked with vulnerability, honesty, and so much grace. What had felt like a punishment from God to own up to my sin and shortcomings was instead a gift of kindness leading me toward freedom.
Romans 2:4. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”