As I kept pondering over what I should write about, the word Epiphany kept coming to mind. Then, suddenly, I felt inspired to review some things I wrote several years ago. In particular, I was impressed to read over an item I wrote called Strengthening the Inner Self that I had shared in my church.
During our lifetime, one thing we will all be faced with is choices. Some will choose the right and unfortunately, some will choose the wrong. At times, some immediately learn from the wrong choice and correct the situation. Others, because of their bad choices become stuck on the wrong path and continue to make bad choices. They may even acknowledge that they have done wrong, but ignore it; their inner self takes over and they begin to make excuses and blame others.
One of the greatest benefits we do have in life is our ability to choose. Even if you are on the wrong path as a result of your bad choices, you can still change. I believe everyone, even those who have done wrong due to their poor choices, will experience an epiphany at some point in their life. They will experience a moment when something or someone opens their mind, infecting them with thoughts of what they can and need to do to better themselves. The question is whether they will pay attention to those thoughts, seek to understand them, and then make the change. It may not be easy and it may take some time, but if one truly desires to change, they will make the right choice.
As I thought about this, thoughts of one of my favorite novels came to mind; the classic Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. In the novel, the lead character, Jean Valjean, is a perfect example of these types of situations.
Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread, is caught and sentenced to five years’ hard labor in prison. In a chapter that Victor Hugo titled the “Inwardness of Dispair”, Valjean, who was still in prison at the time, began, like many of us do when we have made a wrong choice, to seriously reflect upon his life and the choice he had made. He even acknowledges that he was “not an innocent man unjustly imprisoned.” As Hugo tells us, “he had committed an excessive and blameworthy act.” In short – Valjean admitted he had done wrong. Then, the inner self takes over. Valjean begins to rationalize his act and blame society and everyone else for his decision to steal a loaf of bread. He becomes a bitter, angry man determined to escape. His several attempts to escape lead to added years to his sentence.
After 19 years, Valjean is released. Angry and vengeful, he wanders the country side and is turned away by almost everyone. Eventually, he comes to the home of Monseigneur Myriel, the Bishop of Digne. Monseigneur Myriel invites him in and shows him unconditional love and service. He urges Valjean to replace anger with goodwill in order to be worthy of respect. He tells him “You have left a place of suffering. But listen, there will be more joy in heaven over the tears of a repentant sinner, than over the white robes of a hundred good men. If you are leaving that sorrowful place with hate and anger against men, you are worthy of compassion; if you leave it with goodwill, gentleness, and peace, you are better than any of us.”
Valjean repays the Bishop’s kindness by stealing some silver from him. He flees and is caught. He claims the Bishop gave the silver to him. The police take him back to the Bishop who immediately, knowing that he never gave the silver to Valjean, validates Valjean’s story and tells him he forgot the two silver candlesticks he had given him. This of course was not true. The police leave and Valjean is left there with the Bishop. Monseigneur Myriel tells Valjean, “Do not forget, do not forget, that you have promised me to use the money (from the silver) to make yourself an honest man.”
Valjean leaves. A short time later, he comes across a young boy tossing a coin in the air. The boy drops the coin and Valjean immediately puts his foot on it. The boy sees this and demands his coin be returned. Valjean refuses and eventually the boy leaves. After he steals the coin from the boy, he has an epiphany. Hugo tells us “he could see his life, and it seemed horrible; his soul, and it seemed frightful.” Hugo goes on to say that when Valjean left the Bishop’s house, he was in a state of mind unlike anything he had ever experienced and was unable to account for what was taking place within him. He says “Valjean sought to harden his heart against an old man’s saintly act and moving words.” The Bishop’s words, “you have promised me to become an honest man” played over and over in Valjean’s mind.
Hugo writes “the words constantly returned to him and he sought to suppress them with arrogance, which in all of us is the stronghold of evil.” He tells us that Valjean perceived the Bishop’s forgiveness as the “most formidable assault he had ever sustained” and if he resisted it his heart would be hardened. That this time he must either conquer or be conquered, and that the battle was now a momentous and decisive battle between the evil in himself and the goodness in that other man.”
When you are struggling and that epiphany finally hits you, don’t ignore it. It may be hard to understand at first, but if you truly desire to better your situation it can be done.