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Seeing the True Self

Aug. 5, 2022

Les Miserables is a literary masterpiece, a musical sensation, a box office hit, and one of my favorite stories of all time. Set in 19th century France, the story follows Jean Valjean, imprisoned 19 years for stealing bread for his starving sister’s family and escape attempts, and Javert, one of his prison guards. After his release, a kind hearted bishop offers Valjean food and rest, with the thief making an empty promise to be a better man. In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver and strikes him to escape.

When the authorities drag Valjean back to the bishop’s house, the old cleric isn’t livid about the theft and violence. He doesn’t threaten lifetime incarceration. Instead he retorts, “Jean Valjean, I’m very angry with you. You forgot the silver candlesticks. They’re worth at least a thousand francs. Did you forget I gave these also?” The surprised police release Valjean, and the man of God stares at the stunned convict. “Jean Valjean, my brother, with this silver, I have bought your soul, and now I give you back to God. Don’t forget. Don’t ever forget. You’ve promised to be a new man.”

Valjean indeed becomes a new man. The bishop’s overwhelming act of grace transforms his life. He buys a new identity and becomes a successful business man and philanthropist. Renovated by mercy, he offers forgiveness and kindness freely. When the bishop looked at Valjean, he didn’t see a thief or a convict. He didn’t even see the man who assaulted him and left him with nothing but wooden spoons. He saw his brother in Christ. He saw a soul worthy of redemption. He saw silver as a small price to pay for one man’s salvation. He saw the true man, the one God intended when he made him.

If you know Les Miserables, you know Javert – the old prison guard – comes to Valjean’s town, remembers who he is and spends the next decade hunting him in hopes of throwing him back in prison. When Javert looks at Valjean, he can only see the criminal. He believes in the justice of punishment not the justice of restoration. For many today, they look at those trapped in the prison of addiction and only see the brokenness, damage, and offence. They only see one deserving punishment, but punishment doesn’t change lives. Grace does, and grace sees a child of God desperate to be free. Grace believes change is possible and freedom is real.

At Starlight at Tamassee, we offer moms recovering from substance use and their children a safe place to encounter grace and experience the love of God – to see their true selves. To learn more about Starlight, visit starlight.tdarschool.org, or contact us at starlight@tdarschool.org or 864-944-1390. If your church or civic group is interested in a presentation on recovery, contact Jon Holland at jholland@tdarschool.org.