Monday, November 23, 2009

Woe is me

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned . . . again.

Last Saturday was not a banner day for me. I had the distinct feeling that in a spiritual sense, my slip was showing. And it was not just slipping beyond my hemline, it was almost dragging to the floor. I was caught red-handed with my personal pet sin displayed in full glory. To those who should have commanded my respect. To those in my larger circle of influence, people to whom I might have displayed the virtues of humility and grace. People whom I failed, miserably.

Before you get too worried about what I might confess, I'll let the cat out of the bag. In the last few months, I took a survey out of the book The Emotionally Healthy Church for my Spiritual Formation class. I scored quite low on being able to take criticism or confrontation from anyone. I told the husband I wanted to tell him where I scored low, but without even seeing the test at all, he knew instinctively what it was. I might not have been self-aware enough to see it in the past, but others around me have seen it, for sure.

I get defensive, fast, when confronted. I don't want to be at fault. I want to be right. Beneath it all, of course, lurks the sin of pride. And when the rest of my world spins fairly uneventfully and I feel like things are going well in life and ministry, a moment comes when I am put on the spot--and without thought, I lash back in defense. While I usually carefully think through my words, these moments betray a deep-seated pride and a feeling of inferiority all rolled into one.

(I should mention right here that I had started my day with a time of spiritual reflection and a prayer of abandonment to God's Will. I had also read a great blog posting about our "larger circle," and how we have opportunities each day to show God's love to them. Those wonderful thoughts were a million miles away when the following unfolded...)

As I went to check out a few things, the library clerk told me I had an $18 fine due at the local library. I believe that in the next few moments, I ruined the clerk's afternoon. And then I talked heatedly with the library manager. What makes this story infinitely worse, in my opinion, is the fact that said overdue books were theology books, for crying out loud! Not only was I defensive and hot under the collar, I was a horrible example of the grace God has lavished on me. I did not embody His love. There was no trace of humility in my tone.

(I was justifying myself, because I didn't receive any of the usual coming due or overdue email notices, which I later discovered was a feature of my gmail program--it indexed them and hid them from my view. This, of course, is not the library's fault!!)

So I approached the library manager and told him I was sorry, that I was out of line. I explained that the emails the library sends to remind me books are due were buried under the "hold" notices in my inbox and I never saw them. I agreed to pay the fine. I asked for his help in doing this online. I wanted to crawl into a gigantic hole and disappear into another country. But I could not.

I did my duty and left the library, crying as I walked into our home. I immediately asked the husband why I am such a jerk, why I have to be so defensive and reactionary. Why I can't love people like Jesus does. And to make me feel better, he tells me he thinks he can be just as abrasive as I am sometimes, and I cry harder, because I never, ever in my life want to be thought of as abrasive. It goes against every good thing God has done in my heart, so I was beside myself.

As I took a bike ride around our neighborhoods, sunglasses hiding my tears, I confessed my sin to God and He forgave me because of what His Son has already done on my behalf, and this made me cry a little harder, actually. I wanted 50 lashes with a wet noodle or something, and He forgave me, just like that.

I wanted to do some kind of penance and earn back my good reputation and my charitable heart toward others, but all of it is covered because of my position in Christ. I found this very difficult to accept on Saturday. But it is utterly true.

Of course, further talks with friends helped me to realize that God wants to use this little episode, and the test that has revealed one of my greatest weaknesses, to shape me for His use, to make me more like Him. To use my brokenness to help me grow and heal, so I can be Jesus to others in my interactions, so they can grow and heal by knowing Him, too.

Woe is me. But all is not hopeless. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9). Confessed. Forgiven. His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 2:22-23) He is compassionate and gracious; He does not go on accusing us; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

Christians fail to do and be all that God calls them to be. But God never fails. He disciplines those He loves--then He picks us up, dusts us off, forgives our sin, and sustains us with His compassion and grace.

I'm humbled by this knowledge and grateful for second, third, and fourth chances. How about you?

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