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Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Soul is like a Car Wreck

Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of His Mercy in unexpected ways.

About a year or so ago, when I worked as an Insurance Investigator, I was handling a claim that was very fishy. It was a stolen vehicle claim, the car was really a mess, and was at the shop, waiting for us to complete our investigation. However, I knew the customer was lying and that the car WASN'T stolen. It had a security system that had not been defeated, and his story as to how a thief had allegedly gotten his keys simply didn't ring true. The location of the car made no sense...unless the owner himself had been driving it at the time of the accident.

When I took his statement, I even confronted him and asked him directly, "Are you sure that you weren't just drunk, crashed your car, and fled the scene?"

He denied it. And yet...I knew he was lying. So the investigation dragged on as I continued to interview his witnesses, obtain reports, etc.

Finally it came down to the wire. If he didn't come clean with me, I was going to have to take the claim to a conference call with the big heads and legal, and obtain permission to deny the claim: the car wasn't stolen. It was time to have what we in the biz call the "Come to Jesus" speech.

"Come to Jesus"

It was a long conversation. And over the years, in fact, I'd gotten rather good at these types of dialogues. There are two keys to this: 1. you first have to convince the other party that you do indeed know the truth but need confirmation of it, and, 2. that you do truly have their best interests at heart. That means you have to highlight the bad result and direct them towards the good. In other words, "Come to Jesus."

I'd already given him several chances to tell the truth. I'd given him all the consequences and the possible outcomes, I'd even thrown several bones by way of helping him tell me the truth, indicating that was all I needed. I wasn't the police; I was his insurer, and I needed to know the truth because I wasn't willing to testify in court to a lie should a victim come forward and have a claim to present.

Nor should this guy want to be in court with this story...he'd be torn to pieces.

So, on that last opportunity, I laid it out. I explained that I knew he wasn't being truthful, I suspected the reason why, but if he didn't admit what really happened, the people over my head were going to make a decision that didn't bode well for him. I laid out all the legal ramifications of our denial of his claim, should that be the decision. I gave him dollar values, and knowing there was third party damage, I gave him a quote on that bill, which was destined to come his way.

It was a good conversation; I was matter-of-fact about it, encouraged him to be honest, and did my best to let him know that it was in his very best interest to come clean and tell the truth. I knew that if he did, I could proceed, all would be well, and this entire mess would be done. He was becoming more and more nervous, and more and more interested in our dialogue. He asked questions, hemmed and hawed, and I could hear him take several deep breaths, trying to calm his shaking voice. I knew that SOMETHING I'd said had struck a chord, and he was FINALLY understanding what he was facing.

And then I used a technique I learned long ago in law enforcement training: silence. He agonized in it, and came to a decision. I asked if he needed a moment, said that I could take another statement, but if he had to think about it, I understood, as I'd just thrown a lot of information his way. I also said that I would remain available for questions or other concerns.

More silence. Silence is key.

But no; he didn't want to wait, had no more questions, and didn't want to call back. he was ready. He took another deep breath and told me to start the tape, which I did, giving the standard introduction, and just asked him to tell me what happened in his own words. He admitted that he'd been drinking, he didn't call a cab, he didn't lose his keys, but chose to drive. En route home he lost control and crashed, hard, into something he couldn't identify. (It was a cement median pole...dunno how he hit THAT, but he did. Really hard.) Frightened, he ran away and called his friend (a witness who had given me the key to the real deal) who gave him a ride home. I had only a couple question; did he have any passengers? No. And was he injured? No. (Amazing, should have seen that car...massive impact.)

I thanked him, turned off the recorder, and said, "OK, that's it. I'll call the shop and tell them to start repairs, cut the check out for the estimate I've written so far, and will call the rental company to accept the bill."

He was shocked. One moment he'd been terrified to tell me the real story, the next moment I simply accepted the truth...and went ahead with what he needed.

"That's it?" He asked, increduously, "That's all? .....THANK YOU!"

And I'd never heard such relief or joy in someone's voice.

What he did was what we both needed him to do, and for good reason. All along I'd known, and knew what to do when he finally came clean...and what would happen if he didn't. But he didn't know, couldn't see it, and was acting out of fear in hiding his sin.

A Glimpse of God's View

That night when I was driving home, it hit me: that's how God sees us. That was an example of His own mercy. When we sin, we do the same thing - we try to hide it. We suffer guilt, we tell ourselves that things will be made worse if we are honest and speak the truth. We expect to be berated, or punished. We steel ourselves against an onslaught of righteous anger.

None of us ever gets over the idea that we're going to "get into trouble". We are forever fallen children.

And that's why God's Mercy is so incredible; for even though we DESERVE the worst punishment, when we come to Him, we experience nothing but love and mercy. All God wants us to do is to come to Him, to be honest, and to stop trying to hide the things in our lives that He already knows about. It is only when we take this action that He can work to restore us to our original dignity. Our souls cannot be repaired without our permission.

I knew the sound of relief in my customer's voice on that day; for his relief, and his words, are often my own. His nervous, shaking voice...also mine. His ducking and denials of what I knew to be the, all the way. And in the end, his relief, at finally speaking the words of what really happened...that is familar as well. It was followed by grateful joy when he learned that truly, I delivered what I promised all along, and it was over. He could move on. Yup...I've been there, too.

He even exclaimed at how good it felt to tell the truth.

All I did for that man was my job, but I see that even the work that I did operated on the hierarchy of God's Providence, revealing to both my customer and I different facets of God's love, and His ordering of the world. On that day, I got to participate in both God's justice and His Mercy...and my customer was the recipient. And in that participation, I obtained a glimpse into the "other side" of Mercy: that of dispensing mercy; for to do so IS just!

I have to be honest; that customer helped me to see Our Lord, and the blessed Sacrament of Confession through new eyes. One thing that I think we as the laity often miss is that on the other side of the screen, or in the other chair, the guy with God's Authority is also a human being. Maybe Father doesn't know all the details about someone that I knew as an Investigator, or perhaps he does, if he knows the person well. And how he must pray mightily that a soul will "come to Jesus" and obtain the grace he needs.

But how well he must know the interior struggle of that person, and how well he must rejoice when the penitent sitting in front of him (0r behind the screen) exclaims, "That's IT?!", nearly weeping in relief. And that dear Priest, dispensing Mercy in the name and person of Christ Himself, knows the feeling, too.

I gotta say it; we're all a bunch of car wrecks waiting for repair, but if we can't admit where and why we made a wrong turn, there isn't a shop in the world that can restore us. Only Christ can do that, and we have but to ask. Mercy awaits.

What are YOU waiting for?


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Things like this is why I should make your blog required reading...this car got repaired last friday at Adoration...but he should go in for a check up tomorrow morning before Mass.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story ... wonderful!

Hidden One said...

Nail. Head. Bang.

Hidden One said...

[That's overly-concise-ese for "you hit the nail on the head", in case that wasn't obvious.]

Banshee said...

Sniffle. *blow nose*

Adoro said...

Joe ~ LOL....not all my posts include catechesis! I have a great deal of non-doctrinal musing going on!

H.O. ~ Got it. Loved it.

Maureen ~ Huh?

Lynne said...

Wow! You're amazing!

MemoriaDei said...

Reminds me of social worker days with protective services/foster care. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone.

I didn't realize I hadn't replied to ANY of the above comments. Sorry!

Clairvaux ~ You must have some amazing stories. I've applied for positions in that field, and still might, as heartbreaking as it must be.

But mercy...God's mercy is everywhere, and even in a bad system, we can use it.