|O My Lord,|
My sins are like
The highest mountain;
My good deeds
Are very few,
They’re like a small pebble.
I turn to You,
My heart full of shame,
My eyes full of tears.
Forgiveness and Mercy
~ from the song “Supplication” by Sami Yusuf
Lent assaults our mistaken sense of ourselves. It challenges the sole notion that we’re capable, self-sufficient, and that we can (or must) handle it all. Lent invites us to consider our brokenness, our separation from God, and our sinfulness. We’re good at minimizing all of that. We’re good at explaining away the dark things we do. Good at excusing the things we do when we wouldn’t want our children to know we’ve done them. Or our church community. And sometimes, we’re good at forgiving ourselves too easily or too quickly.
Though there are times when we need to. There are times when our mental and emotional health necessitates not beating ourselves up. We need to have good self-esteem. We need to feel good about ourselves, so we don’t slide into depression and despair, unable to function or be productive; and in the extreme, unable to be in community.
Therapist John Bradshaw defines guilt as the feeling that we’ve done something wrong; and shame as the feeling that we’ve exceeded our humanity and have wandered into God’s realm of judgment. But when we embrace our full and broken humanity, we are freed from the responsibility of trying to act like God. And that can feel like a huge weight being lifted off our shoulders. It can feel like being human.
But we’re pretty good some times at rationalizing what we do even when the still small voice within may caution us against it. Look around when you shop, and you may see young children in grocery carts being fed cookies or other foods while mom or dad is still shopping (and before anything is paid for). If what was being eaten is from a “package of __” which will be paid for (as much of it is), then “no harm done.” But if it’s from a bulk food bin, or some produce which must first be weighed, then what do we call that? There are things that are far worse; but when collectively, we do or say nothing in response to this kind of behavior (or something far worse), all we really do is enable it.
There used to be a pretty funny TV commercial which started out with “When your cable’s on the fritz you get frustrated.” and ends with “Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar.” It illustrates the apparently undesired cascading effects of making bad choices. Now we certainly need to take the logs out of our own eyes before we can see the splinters in the eyes of our sisters and brothers; but to the degree that there is no accountability, there can be no community. And without community, there can be no accountability.
But we’re just the way God made us. We are naked before God, who sees all of our flaws and imperfections, and still could not love us more. But when this love becomes overshadowed by our flaws and imperfections, it’s because we have ignored God’s yardstick, and have let the folding rulers of the world measure us. This Lent, let’s rediscover the wonder and joy and humility in the limits of just being human; knowing that God loves us just the way we are. And that God meets us more than half way, in Christ Jesus.