Lessons from a sandbox | WORLD
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Lessons from a sandbox

VOICES | A childhood lie and the inter-relatedness of God’s law

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I was, after all, only 4 years old. My parents were devout people. But they hadn’t made it a point—yet—to teach me any details of the Ten Commandments.

Wendell was my best friend. His toys were newer and nicer than mine. I loved to run quietly all the way across the town of Holland, Iowa (population 240), so I could join him in his sandbox, which was also several degrees newer, bigger, and more fun than mine.

Never mind that I had strict instructions from my mom and dad not to wander from our house toward Wendell’s—not even with his personal welcome. I knew Mom would be serving lunch right at noon, Dad would join us, and I was expected to be there too.

On that particular day, my wandering feet tugged me where I knew I shouldn’t go. It was a good morning, playing with Wendell. So much fun, I guess, that I lost track of time. A bit later than was wise for me, I started the five-minute trek home. My goal was to get there before Dad did—so he’d never suspect my rebel heart.

But my calculations were off, and Dad was ahead of me.

“Where have you been?” he asked me.

“Nowhere,” I replied evasively.

“So what’s wrong with your shirt?” Dad asked while running his accusing hand—first down the front, and then the back—of my sandy shirt.

Just that fast, truth was making its presence known. My delayed departure from Wendell’s home had occurred because, just a few minutes earlier, I had decided Wendell probably wouldn’t miss one of his new, highly colorful aluminum shovels if I borrowed it for a few days. I had clumsily tried to stuff a 10-inch shovel behind a 6-inch shirt.

There’s a great deal I don’t remember about the “court scene” that followed. What I’ve reported to you here was one little 4-year-old boy’s first face-to-face encounter with truth-telling. In the 76 years since, I have been sometimes successful in pursuing truth and sometimes embarrassingly feeble.

This was my very first encounter with what I came to know as God’s Law. By that I mean to stress the interrelatedness of truth. The most obvious “lesson” of that experience was my lying to my father. But just as serious was the covetousness that preceded all this, and the theft from my friend that followed. My account might well have included a reference to the dishonor all this had brought to my parents.

My parents did the right thing. Dad apologized to Wendell and his family and had me return the shovel. I got a serious spanking, and I lost some privileges for a painful stretch. I wish I could tell you I never again lied to my father. But that would add yet another lie to my record.

So how would you say you’ve been doing as a teacher of truth-telling? Have the children whose ­education you’re responsible for been getting a full dose? Or have you let them off the hook with a narrow, truncated view of things?

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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