Sep 25, 2016 by Norris Burkes

Who hasn’t feigned illness to take a day off from work?

This was my question as I called the Baylor University Bookstore one Friday morning in the fall of 1978. When my manager picked up the line, I winked knowingly at my new girlfriend sitting beside me.

“I’m not feeling well today.” Cough, cough. “I can’t come in until Monday.”

“Then you’re fired!” he said.

I wasn’t expecting the finality in his answer. I could hear a pulse in my ears.

“Don’t come back,” he added before slamming down the phone receiver.

My face flushed and my eyes suddenly felt overhydrated. I was having a grief reaction, anticipating the loss of the prestige I’d enjoyed interacting with university professors and freshman co-eds.

How had I miscalculated this scenario? Was my boss aware of the love-struck hormonal illness with which I was afflicted? How would I afford to take my girlfriend to the back-to-school dance?

I had to make this right for many reasons. The bookstore was the center of university life and I didn’t want to be dodging my boss for the next year. I needed to apologize.

How does one apologize for such bald-faced lying?

First, it’s always good to allow a cool-down period. I waited a few weeks for the back-to-school rush to end and called for an appointment.

Once inside the manager’s office, I kept it simple. I admitted that I hadn’t been sick. Plain and guileless. “I’m sorry for lying.”

I didn’t excuse my action or bring my girlfriend into the picture.

Second, I expressed understanding for his situation. I admitted that I abandoned my colleagues, causing them to be short-handed at his busiest time of the year.

Third, I asked for forgiveness. He granted that.

Finally, I think I surprised him when I asked his help to clarify the lessons I needed to learn.

That question brought his deepest thought.

“Who is it you want to be?” he asked.

“Pardon me?”

“Well, I know you’re a ministerial student, so I know WHAT you want to be. But beyond that, WHO do you want be?”

I thought I got his drift, but I wasn’t entirely sure.

“I think above all,” he said, “you want to be a person who people trust. I think you want to be a person who keeps his word.”

“I see three lessons,” he continued.

“First, don’t lie. Lying shows you don’t believe you’re capable of being who you want to be. Don’t sell yourself short. I know you are capable of being who you want to be.”

“Second, if I’m not mistaken, Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no. Whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

In other words, my ex-boss was telling me to be sure of what I want before I commit to something. And when I do commit, I should keep my word.

“Third.” He cleared his throat, trying to remember his third point.

He gave up on that. “Just remember those two for now. Don’t lie and keep your word.”

The bookstore manager was OK in my book – even if he didn’t give me my old job back.

Fortunately, he gave me a good reference to a better-paying job as a night watchman in a local bank. Good thing too. I could afford to take the girl to the dance.

Unfortunately, I can’t dance and she broke up with me.

Happily, I met and married my wife after that. But that’s a story for another day.

– Write Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.