On Tuesday, I arrived home from work to find my garage door wide open. This has happened to me a few times in the past. My friend Verray would be passing my house on the way to work an hour or so after I left, only to see my garage door open and call me. Once, it happened when I was several states away on vacation. My friend Julie went to the house, prepared to call 911 at the first sign of foul play.
Usually when this happens, I look around, and everything’s fine. The garage door had just momentarily become enslaved to stray electrical signals from a short in the wiring, a low-flying plane, or a neighbor with the same signal.
This time, however, when I arrived home from work to see the garage fully exposed, I immediately noticed that my bicycle was gone. My $400 bicycle that I loved dearly. It always sat next to the far wall of the garage. Once, when my sister pulled into the garage, she bumped the bike, pinning it to the wall and leaving a black smudge.
Now, the space was empty, the black smudge left behind as the only evidence that a bicycle was ever there.
I called 911, and an officer came out to write up a crime report. Secretly I hoped she would drive around and look for it, questioning all the kids in the area on bicycles. But in reality, I know it will most likely never show up. I just wanted the incident on record, wanted it to become one of the statistics.
As the officer pulled out of the driveway, I didn’t feel scared or victimized. I highly doubt that the person who took the bike had anything to do with the garage door opening up randomly. Instead, I picture a restless teenager or a homeless man walking along the street in front of my house, noticing the open garage with no car. Then, I imagine them walking back by again, an hour later, the garage still open, and making a split decision to grab the bike and go.
This wasn’t a premeditated crime; it wasn’t personal. This was simply a crime of opportunity.
Apparently, I have a criminal mind, because anytime I see an open garage door, or an unattended cash register, or a purse laying casually on a restaurant floor, I imagine how easy it would be to take what’s not mine.
When I lived in Chicago, my boss gave me the advice to always be on my guard for anyone standing or sitting closer to me than felt comfortable, because most likely they were taking the opportunity to extract my wallet.
Only once did I have that feeling without immediately pulling my purse closer to my body. Only once did I have something stolen. When I realized what was missing, however, I laughed. Instead of grabbing my wallet or anything of value, the thief had taken the opportunity to grab my DayTimer.
Though it was annoying to have to reconstruct my schedule, I thought it would be pretty easy to catch the thief. All I had to do was see who unexpectedly showed up at my meetings for the next week.
Though I have never acted on my criminal impulses to shoplift or empty a cash register, I have begun to appreciate the power of inertia in committing crimes of opportunity.
Before I discovered my stolen bicycle on Tuesday, I had also acted criminally. I had been frustrated at work and took the opportunity to complain and grumble. When a coworker delivered bad news, I was unkind to her. When I encountered a gossip session, I joined right in. In each case, taking others’ joy, dignity, and reputation, which clearly didn’t belong to me.
These opportunities for sin seem so spontaneous, so irresistible. I could make a case that I am the victim not the perpetrator in these instances.
But a life of following Jesus is not about going with the flow and taking hold of every opportunity to sin. Quite the opposite. As I become more like him, I should increasingly see my life as a series of opportunities to say “no” to sin, and say “yes” to righteousness.
When I got over the initial shock of my stolen bicycle, I had a ridiculous picture of justice being served.
I imagined myself riding through the nearby neighborhoods, spotting the perpetrator riding around on my bicycle, and taunting him by saying, “Hey kid, you think you’re so tough – you look like a big sissy riding around on a girl’s bike.”
But then again, maybe I’ll just take the opportunity to forgive.
Photo by Dharmit Shah, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.