Do you feel trapped by forces that are beyond your control? Disillusioned by the world around him, Dave struggled to overcome a 17-year addiction to shoplifting and other problems. His freedom came from a source he least expected.
A Small Weed
Weeds are easy to pull out when they are small but small weeds are also easy to ignore. At the age of twelve, I was in a store with a friend who introduced me to shoplifting. I was shocked that someone would steal a chocolate bar but it did taste good. I knew that stealing was wrong yet my young friend seemed quite pleased with himself. I’m not quite sure how I made the transition but within a year I was also shoplifting. I had taken my first steps into an insidious problem I was to struggle with for nearly two decades.
Seventeen long years addicted to shoplifting
Shoplifting became one of life’s risky but exciting challenges for me. As a juvenile I was caught on two occasions and had dealings with the police. In my mid-teens, I was ashamed and distressed when my parents were brought into the picture and I determined not to offend again. However it was not to be; despite my best intentions and after a few months of restraint, I continued in my old ways. That small weed had taken root and now had a stranglehold on my life. Every now and then I’d come across a weed that would not budge despite me applying all the strength that I had. I began to justify my actions thinking that the large retail companies were just ripping everyone off anyway. I became increasingly rebellious towards authority as its shortcomings and failures were the constant focus of media attention. I also became more proficient at shoplifting and increased the scope of my crimes.
Longing to overcome my weakness
It wasn’t hard to look around and compare myself with other people thinking, “I’m not that bad really.” I really wanted to change but every now and then familiar thoughts would come into my mind to discourage any idea of reform; “hey, there’s no God and no judgment. Its okay, you won’t have to give an account one day.” And, “Even if there were a God, what hope would I have with my life in such a mess?” As a young man I came to recognise that my own actions really were wrong and could not be justified rationally. I was faced with the growing realisation that my double life was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. There was much at stake and I knew it. In times of true introspection I saw these truths clearly and longed to return to an honest life. I made resolutions and wrote them down to carry around with me. I searched for an answer, a way out, a strategy to set me free but it wasn’t to be. Whenever I entered a store, a powerful mindset came over me and my resolutions quickly faded into the background. While I didn’t understand the real nature of what was happening in me, I came to see that I was grappling with a problem that was beyond my power to overcome. I was increasingly concerned and discouraged about this persistent failure in my life but I held on to an invisible thread of hope.
Facing the judge
I was caught shoplifting in my early twenties and handed over to the police. It was during a time of real turmoil in my life. This mitigating factor was used in my defence in court and, thankfully, no conviction was recorded. It was very hard facing my colleagues the day after the story came out in the newspaper and I felt great shame. You would think that would be a turning point and sufficient motivation for me to finally leave it all behind. I was scared and I desperately wanted to stop shoplifting. I’ve noticed some intriguing parallels in my experiences with those of people who have battled drug and alcohol addictions. I had good intentions and I tried to walk the straight path. I lasted only for a few months before giving into a “just this once, one more time won’t do any harm; then you can quit” deception. Little did I know, I still had over six years of shoplifting struggle ahead of me!
A gun in my face
On one occasion I had been playing cards ‘til late at a friend’s place. It was such a beautiful moonlit night that I chose to walk home and was questioned by police a short distance from my friend’s house. Not bothering to check my story, they insisted on giving me a lift home. I hesitantly got into their car. En route they stopped on the deserted road saying they had to rendezvous with another unit. Another police car parked alongside ours and a large officer got out, opened my door and ordered me out of the car. As I stood on the footpath he pulled his revolver and held it to my throat. Towering over me, he wrongly accused me of being a ‘peeping tom’ who had been spying on his wife late at night! I maintained my innocence, albeit rather feebly in the face of his intimidation and verbal threats, along with his gun in my throat! This experience fuelled my feelings of alienation.
Drugs – another delusion
Several years later my situation wasn’t looking any better. I wondered if shoplifting was a problem that I might have to live with for the rest of my life. Not an appealing prospect but there was no solution in sight. I was rebellious and had scant respect for the law. I had discovered marijuana and was making cautious use of this illegal but seemingly okay diversion from the harsh realities of life. On one occasion, there was a full scale manhunt underway progressing up the hill towards my place. I had a great view from my balcony of the police with their dogs, moving from yard to yard, flashing lights everywhere, all overseen by the police helicopter. My discreetly located crop of 6 foot plants was minutes away from becoming a police exhibit! I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the escapee was cornered in the neighbour’s banana patch a few doors down the road.
Over time I experienced a few episodes where the effects of marijuana were a cause for serious concern. I came to realise that this drug was not the harmless diversion many believed it to be but I continued to use it anyway, ignoring the warning signs.
Fusion – an end to delusion
My friends and I often rode 1000km down to Bathurst for the Australian motorcycle grand prix at Easter. One particular year we found ourselves engaging with a group of young Christians who ran a coffee shop and outreach to the bikers. Although we gave them a hard time, we found them friendly and intriguing and were drawn to them in an unusual way. They laughed at our jokes, overlooked our rough edges, and showed us an unconditional love. We spent more time with them than we did at the races! Some shared their own stories with us of how their lives had been changed by the gospel. In the background, they were praying for us and continued to do so even after the event. A few even followed up in the weeks ahead by phone or letter.
Reflecting on my life
One day I got a letter from one of these Christians and an unusual thing happened to me. Washing my face in the mirror, I found myself looking deep into my own eyes. My thoughts travelled back to the clear memories of what I had been like as a little boy and how my life had gradually gone downhill as the years went by. With sad recognition I traced my path from the lovely innocence of childhood to the broken, disillusioned state I now found myself in. I saw the harmful effect of my wrong choices and the influence that this shadowy world had had on my life. Then I suddenly realised that the things that Jesus Christ taught were pure and true and that He was the answer I was looking for! This was a very uncharacteristic idea for me. I determined to find a way out of the mess that I was in, once and for all. I also was painfully aware of how I had failed my mum who had tried to teach me right ways. She reminisced every now and then on what a lovely little boy I had been. She would be devastated if she knew what my life had become. These realisations bought tears to my eyes and a desperate resolve to finally turn things around, no matter what the cost.
Trying to be a good person
I eventually summoned the courage to confide in my girlfriend, knowing I was taking a risk, and found helpful reassurance in her acceptance and support. I believe this sharing of my shoplifting problem with someone who cared was an important step towards resolving it. I soon decided to seek professional help and started to meet with a counsellor. The counsellor talked with me about my problem and the motivating factors behind it. We then explored strategies of redirecting some of the impulses in more acceptable ways. While these strategies were of some help in controlling the symptoms, they were not the solution to my problem. The mysterious internal force leading me to steal persisted, as assertive and powerful as ever. I was in an ongoing struggle with it and losing more rounds than I was winning. Was I locked into this long battle with no hope of a decisive victory along the way? This apparent grim reality of my situation continued to haunt me.
Search ends in a new beginning
I grew up in a traditional religious setting and thought I knew about Christianity. It never occurred to me that my understanding might have been seriously flawed. As far as I could see, that ‘church’ was just a distasteful part of the system and I rejected it. In doing so, I threw the baby out with the bath water. This is an easy mistake to make for a teenager and many fall for it. Fifteen years later, things had been happening in my life to challenge some of my views. Something was going on and I had a sense of excitement about being on the threshold of a new discovery, a new dimension of understanding. God was at work in my life, even though I did not even believe in Him. I knew that He might be there and it seemed that others had real experience of this.
Then, to my utter amazement, God Himself came into my life! It’s hard to explain this but God revealed Himself to me, opened my eyes, in my own lounge room. God did many incredible things in my life the day I became a Christian. Words can’t describe it all adequately but thousands of books have been written trying because millions of others have had similar experiences. It was like coming out of a life-long dream to discover a beautiful new reality that makes sense of the old reality but then goes so much further. Jesus came into my life, His healing power, and His unbelievable love flowed over me. Awesome changes occurred right inside me; I knew without any doubt they were real and that Jesus Christ was real. I was 29 years old and I certainly hadn’t led a dull life. Yes I’d experienced many amazing things in my life prior to that day but none of them compares even faintly with what God did in me when I finally really believed in Jesus.
A peaceful night’s sleep and freedom
That night I was very excited but slept the best, most peaceful night of sleep you can possibly imagine. It was heavenly to be able to rest like that. What a contrast to the troubled sleep that I had come to accept as normal. When I awoke the next morning I felt like I was a completely new creation. Before I had lifted my head from the pillow, a fantastic realisation swept over me. I WAS FREE! I knew that my struggle was over and I knew that this was something to do with believing the strange but wonderful truth that Jesus had died for my sins.
Be assured, God knows you and He cares about you even if you don’t know Him yet. Sometimes our problems seem too big for us but nothing is impossible for God. Jesus said if we follow His teachings, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. (John 8.31) That is one amazing statement about truth and freedom! I pray that you will experience His love and healing power in your own life. Please feel free to contact me as I am one of the founders of this site.
My theme song