President's Column
March-April 2022

The uncomfortable business of keeping short accounts

By Jack Roady
TDCAA Board President & Criminal District Attorney in Galveston County

Andy Lucas, County Attorney for Somervell County, died January 28 at the age of 49, from injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle crash. Andy left behind his bride of over eight years, two children, and an extended family; he was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, and a son. I did not know Andy personally, but the sad news of his passing set me to thinking. Death can seize us or someone we love at any time.

            This instance of sudden loss made me reflect on how critically important it is that we keep short accounts in every aspect of our lives. What do I mean by “keep short accounts”? The phrase comes from a simpler time in our history when shopkeepers would allow customers to “run a tab” and then settle their debts at a later date. To keep short accounts, then, meant to pay off those charges quickly rather than let them accumulate. Our modern equivalent would be paying off our credit card purchases as they accrue on a monthly basis.

            But the principle has another application: The Lord’s Prayer—as many of us learned it—includes the phrase, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Other translations replace “debt” with “sin,” both meaning an offense for which something is owed. These sins or offenses or debts are things which should be kept in short account.

            I first heard of “keeping short accounts” in a Sunday sermon, in the context of keeping things right with God by regularly confessing our sins—the idea being that the more we allow our offenses to accumulate, the more we allow spiritual scar tissue to grow and hinder our true fellowship and worship. But the principle extends far beyond keeping things right with God. In fact, the Puritans used to say, “Keep short accounts with both God and men.” It means we don’t accumulate backlogs of bitterness, guilt, resentment, or shame. It is probably not a new concept to any of us—we all know that we should not let personal offenses remain unresolved, but rather we should settle matters with one another quickly and urgently.

            But we don’t. As those who work in the legal profession, and especially as prosecutors, we are some of the most conflict-inclined, itching-for-a-fight people on the planet. So why is it, then, that we can be the most conflict-averse, head-in-the-sand people when it comes to resolving disputes with those we know and love, especially when it comes to seeking forgiveness and forgiving others? Admitting that we have made a mistake—or worse, that we have intentionally harmed another—is hard. It means admitting that we fell below a standard of right conduct. It means we violated a sense of who we think we are, or at least who we want to be: We like to think we are always kind, generous, truthful, selfless, magnanimous. and benevolent.

            But we’re not. There are times when we are just plain cruel, covetous, deceitful, selfish, mean-spirited, and vengeful. And when that happens, we ought not just say, “That’s who I am,” or “I’m wired that way,” or “They’ll just have to get over it.” Instead, we ought rightly to settle the dispute—we ought to keep short accounts.

            What does that look like if we are the offending party? It certainly doesn’t mean saying something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.” Rather, it means we own it. We express sorrow for the act, we acknowledge our part in the wrong, we do not excuse our conduct, we do not spread the blame, we look for ways to make things right and restore the relationship, and we ask forgiveness of the person we have offended. And then we change our ways so we don’t keep repeating the behavior!

            What does that look like if we are the offended party? It means we forgive freely and continually. It means we don’t hide in our corner, arms crossed and brow furrowed, waiting for an apology. That’s just poisoning our own well. Instead, we seek out the other person and take responsibility for initiating restoration. We forgive those we like, and we forgive those we don’t like. We forgive the powerful who can harm or help us, and we forgive the lowly who have nothing to offer us in return.

            And if we don’t keep short accounts, what of it? Will we recognize immediate harm if we do not quickly seek forgiveness or grant it? Probably not. But over time, if we allow even the smallest of offenses to accumulate, we build walls, stone upon stone, of bitterness and distrust that can become insurmountable and permanent barriers. And those barriers will destroy not only our professional relationships, but also our friendships and families.

            So what in the world is a column like this doing in The Texas Prosecutor journal? Should these principles of forgiveness and reconciliation influence our professional responsibilities as prosecutors representing the State? Perhaps, but that is another lengthy discussion for another time. But I write this here and now because I just don’t want to miss the moment. Andy Lucas’s tragic and unexpected death was a terrible loss not only to his family, friends, and community, but also to our profession as a whole. Its awful suddenness should startle us, unsettle us, and remind us that we are not promised tomorrow. Knowing that, we should also know what a terrible thing it would be to waste even a moment of our days allowing the bitter seeds of unforgiveness to grow in our lives.

            The apostle Paul said that if possible, as far as it depends on us, we should live peaceably with everyone. We do that by keeping short accounts with God and with one another. The hard work of reconciliation is uncomfortable, humbling, and risky. But it’s necessary. Therefore, may Andy’s death spur each of us to take inventory of our own lives to see if there are any accounts that we need to get settled. And if there are, let’s get to them today.