Broken Taillight
August 2003

“Broken Taillight,” Friend, Aug. 2003, 39

Broken Taillight

Based on a true story

Faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart (Hel. 15:7).

The apple went spinning to the ground. Clint was getting pretty good with his homemade slingshot. He had made it from a strong Y-shaped stick and a thick rubber band and had been practicing with it all day. Now his aim was good enough to knock an apple right out of a tree.

He saw a car coming down the road and wondered if he could hit a moving target as small as a taillight on a car. He closed one eye, pulled the rock back to his ear, and let it go. Crack! The sound of breaking plastic and glass was followed by the tinkle of pieces of glass and plastic hitting the pavement. Clint gasped. He’d actually hit the taillight of that car!

In a panic, he dropped his slingshot and scooted up the apple tree, hiding among the leaves. The car screeched to a stop, and a man jumped out. He walked around to look at his broken light, then glared straight at Clint’s hiding place.

“I know you’re up there!” he bellowed. “I saw you. You’d better get down here before I call the police!”

Clint didn’t move. He recognized the man. It was Brother Ernest, who always complained about how noisy the kids were when he went to church. Clint did not want to talk to him.

After a few minutes, Brother Ernest got back into his car and drove away. Clint waited a long time. It was nearly dark when he finally climbed down. He picked up his slingshot, pulled off the rubber band, then flung the stick into the bushes and walked slowly down the road, feeling worse with every step. By the time he got home, he was miserable, and it showed.

“What’s wrong?” Clint’s mother asked when he came into the house. Feeling that he could carry the burden no further, he blurted out everything. His mother put a hand on his shoulder. “What do you think you should do now?” she asked softly.

“I know what I need to do,” Clint said. “I just don’t want to do it.”

She nodded. “It’s hard to make things right when you’ve done wrong. But if you do your part, the Lord will take care of the rest. And you’ll feel good again. I’ll drive you to Brother Ernest’s house, if that will make it any easier.”

Without a word, Clint went out to the car. When they arrived at Brother Ernest’s house, he saw the car with its broken taillight in the driveway. He was relieved that there were no police cars.

The house was dark, and he had a glimmer of hope that maybe Brother Ernest wasn’t home. Clint slowly climbed the front steps and rang the doorbell. A dog barked. The porch light suddenly came on, and the door was flung open.

There stood Brother Ernest. “Ah-ha! You’ve come to pay your dues!”

“S-sorry about your car light, B-brother Ernest,” Clint stammered. “I’ll pay you for it.”

“You bet you will! I’ll send the bill to your parents, and if you don’t pay, I’m calling the police.” He slammed the door and turned off the light, leaving Clint standing alone in the dark.

It took Clint more than three months to repay his parents. It took all his allowance, all his paper-route money, plus anything extra he earned doing chores. But at last the bill was paid in full. And Clint discovered that his mother had been right. He did feel good again. He was glad that he had done the right thing. He was particularly glad the next time he saw Brother Ernest. …

It was Clint’s first Sunday as a deacon, and he and another deacon, Dan, were assigned to collect fast offerings. He was surprised when the second house they visited was Brother Ernest’s. It was shabbier than Clint remembered. The front step was warped, and the porch light was broken. Seeing the porch light brought back all those memories about the broken car light. He wondered briefly if someone had broken the porch light with a slingshot and hadn’t repaired it. Suddenly he felt sorry for Brother Ernest.

“This one’s yours,” Dan whispered, handing Clint the fast-offering envelope. Clint took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and rang the doorbell.

There was a sound of movement within the house. Then the front door opened slowly and Brother Ernest peered out. “What do you want?” he asked gruffly.

Clint swallowed hard. “We’re from the Church, Brother Ernest. We’re collecting fast offerings.”

“Don’t you people ever give up?” Brother Ernest grumbled. “Go away and stop bothering me.”

Clint was turning away when the front door suddenly opened wide, and Brother Ernest stepped out onto the porch. He peered closely at Clint. “Don’t I know you, boy?”

Clint stood up straighter. “Yes, sir.”

“Weren’t you that boy who—”

“Who bought you a new taillight? Yes, sir, I am.”

Brother Ernest stared at him in surprise for a few moments and then did something Clint had never seen him do before. He smiled. “You’ve changed, boy,” he said.

Clint shrugged. “When we do our part, the Lord takes care of the rest.”

Brother Ernest seemed to ponder Clint’s words a moment. He nodded. “You keep your envelope. I’ll pay my offerings next week at church. And I expect to see you there, too, young man. I don’t want to find you hiding in some apple tree.”

Clint smiled. “I don’t need to hide anymore.”

[Change of Heart]

Elder Robert D. Hales

“If we … sincerely repent, we will receive a spiritual change of heart which only comes from our Savior. Our hearts will become new again. …
“Repentance brings about spiritual healing of the soul.”
Elder Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
From an October 1998 general conference address.

Illustrated by Mark Thompson