Confession Time: I will never be perfectly good.

Today at church, my pastor asked the congregation to raise a hand if we had a good week. Lots of hands went up. Then he asked, were you good this week? Almost everyone kept their hands down. But I saw a neatly dressed older man across the aisle from me raise his hand. The pastor again asked, were you perfectly good? Again the man raised his hand. All the while, I was thinking about my filthy mouth as I drove to and from work this week, in my car, alone. I was impatient with slow drivers, annoyed at those who aren’t as smart as me – the ones who don’t know where they’re going.

The pastor’s questions were the segue to our weekly quiet time of confession. I always have something to confess to the Lord: anger, impatience, unkindness, being judgmental, spiritual laziness, etc. In fact, I’m rarely finished confessing when the pastor speaks again to end the moment of confession time silence. Even if I’m only focusing on one particular sin that week, I pray about it deeply and sincerely.

I don’t personally know the man in the conservative dark suit who was perfectly good this week. Maybe he really is very pure in heart and had nothing to confess. I’m skeptical. I don’t believe anyone is perfectly good. Perhaps it’s because I know myself so well. I look in my heart on a daily basis and see how short I fall of God’s glory.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a memorial service for a woman who was described in the eulogy as an angel, a saint. Of course, that’s what a eulogy is for –  to speak highly of the departed. But the eulogy left me feeling comparatively bad because I know I’m no angel. Later, I spoke to a friend who was at the service and he said, “I always thought she was kind of pious. I wanted to go the service to see what she was really like.” He recalled a time when he referred to himself as a sinner in need of grace and the woman said, “I don’t think of myself as a sinner.” All I could say was “wow!” because I can’t imagine a day when I will ever think of myself as not a sinner.

I want to be good. I strive to be good. It would be great if there was ever a week, ever even one day, that I didn’t need confession time. My inner being delights in God’s law: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

But another law is at work in me, waging war against the rules I know in my mind. I know that I should be patient, kind and generous. I know I should love my enemies. I know I shouldn’t cuss at other drivers! But selfishness is right there with me making me a prisoner of the sin at work within me.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Many people think they are good because they compare themselves to people who are bad. I confess that I will never be good because my standard is much higher. Thanks be to God for forgiving me even when I don’t deserve it.

Forgiven, forgiven, you love me even when I don’t deserve it.

 

 

 

 

I am not enough.

Yesterday I picked up a book at the library – Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard, by Jennie Allen. I flipped to the back of the cover flap to read about the author and saw a photo of a beautiful, young woman. I read the intro called “Admitting Our Thirst” and the first chapter where she makes her “quiet confession” – how in so many situations in life, she has concluded that she is not enough. This confession resonates with me big time. I’ve always been plagued with self-doubt. I am certainly not an underachiever. But I have a tendency to worry too much about what people think of me. I also think that I am not enough: not good enough, not successful enough, not popular enough.

This week I went to the memorial service for a beautiful woman who sat in front of me at church for many years. Sharyl was 77 years old – almost the same age my mother was when she passed away. Sharyl called me and the others in our section “pew pals.” We didn’t socialize outside church but we were friends, chatting for a few minutes before the service or in Sunday school. Over the years, I learned that she was from Salina, Kansas, the town I lived in after college. Her family lived in Texas and she traveled often to see them, even more than I visit my family in Kansas.

The memorial service for Sharyl was long because there was so much to say about her mission work, her gift of hospitality, her love of traveling (she had achieved her bucket list of visiting all 50 states and 7 continents), and the godly example she set for her children. She was active in the church’s mission work, particularly with the Uyghur ethic group in China. She was remembered as a saint, an angel. But I was also impressed with her intelligence. She graduated with a degree in mathematics in the early ’60’s, before she married and had four kids.

I grieved Sharyl’s loss but in learning more about her life, I also found myself playing the mind game I always play – comparing myself to a good person who has accomplished much and finding myself wanting. I am not godly enough. I don’t have her gifts. I haven’t accomplished enough. I’m not interesting enough. I am not enough.

There is something comforting in knowing that someone who seems to have it all has also been tormented with feelings of insufficiency. I am not alone.

Jennie Allen said that if she were my enemy she would play mind games with me. She would make me believe that I am helpless. She would make me believe I am insignificant. She would make me believe that God wants my good behavior. She would make me numb and distract my attention from what God is doing.

If all of these mind games didn’t work, my enemy would attack my identity and make me feel like I have to prove myself. Then friends would become enemies. I would isolate myself. I would hold myself back. I would judge and condemn other people rather than love them. And I would lose my joy because I would be paying so much attention to myself that I would take my eyes off of God.

Wow. I’m looking forward to my journey through this book, hoping that Jennie’s insight will free me from my need to prove myself good enough, worthy enough, accomplished enough.

I am not enough and I am done trying to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Being Perfectly Clothed

Every day, whether I am going out or staying home and relaxing, I make a decision about what I’m going to wear that day. When I can, I opt for being casual and comfortable – blue jeans and a t-shirt are my favorite clothes. I’m not especially stylish and I don’t like to be fancy or ostentatious. The simpler the better. For work, I dress up a bit more – slacks and a blouse or sweater. I try not to wear the same outfit two weeks in a row. Sometimes I put something on and then change my mind about wearing it because the combination doesn’t look right. Sometimes my choice of what to wear depends on my mood or on the weather.

I know people who are always dressed to the nines, people who spend a lot of time and money on their physical appearance yet lack the beauty of a kind and gentle spirit. Ultimately, what you look like on the outside really doesn’t matter if you are dirty and ugly on the inside.

Yesterday, someone on Facebook posted a few verses from Colossians that explain how God’s people ought to clothe themselves:

Colossians 3:12-14 New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Today at church, we read a few verses that also speak to the importance of being humble, gentle, patient and loving.

Ephesians 4:1-3 New International Version (NIV)
Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

The apostle Paul wrote both passages. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that love binds the virtues of compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience together in perfect unity. In his letter to the Ephesians, he urged them to be humble, gentle and patient. He made reference to another bond that keeps the Body unified in the Spirit – a bond of peace.

Just as I don’t feel that I am clothed right if my blouse and pants don’t go together, I don’t feel spiritually right if I behave in a way that is not loving or peaceful. The clothes don’t fit; they dig into my sides and make me feel uncomfortable with myself. Being angry or holding a grudge doesn’t fit. Being mean doesn’t fit. Being selfish doesn’t fit. Being impatient doesn’t fit. When I act badly, I wish that I could take off my ugly rags and put on something that feels better.

The truth is I am never perfectly clothed. My wardrobe is often rumpled and stained with the mess of my selfishness. But just as I make every effort to clothe myself neatly and appropriately when I know I will be seen in public, I need to make every effort to be spiritually mature and to clothe myself with kindness, gentleness, humility and patience. And don’t forget to put on a coat of love.

Real Theological Reflection

One of my favorite songs is Lauren Daigle’s song “First.” She sings beautifully about her desire to seek God above everything else. This desire to seek God, to hear him, to feel him, and to know him is unworldly. Many people today, even those who believe in God, are much more concerned with achieving personal goals, acquiring material possessions, indulging physical desires, being entertained, or even gaining power over other people.

At this point in my life, I am also seeking to know God more deeply. I am seeking because I want to know God’s will for me. I seek God because I want to make sense of a world that seems to get crazier and more wicked by the minute. I want to know my true calling. One of the ways I seek God is through spiritual reflection – reading the Bible and seeking the deeper meaning of the words or reading books by others who have also sought to know God more fully.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, professor, and author of Discernment, described discernment as the ability to distinguish between truth and lies, between good and bad guidance, and between the Holy Spirit and evil spirits. Discernment is also a form of spiritual perception: seeing, knowing, and being known by God. Discernment is seeing through to the deeper meaning because the most interesting things are not visible to our senses.

Spiritual perception requires making yourself vulnerable to God. You can’t see yourself as truthfully and authentically as God does unless you open yourself up to God’s guidance, exposing the things that you don’t want to admit about yourself. It means baring your innermost thoughts and inviting God to search and try you just as King David did when he asked God to know his heart and his thoughts and to reveal any offensive way in his inner being (Psalm 139:23-24).

In confessing my sins, I tend to confess things like anger, impatience, a tendency to judge other people or to compare myself to others, and lately, my lack of courage. I know these things about me. What areas do I not want God to investigate? My selfishness? My willingness to let go of things that are important to me, like financial security?

Nouwen said that he thinks the greatest temptation in life and the greatest enemy of the spiritual life is self-rejection – the fear of not being enough, of not being lovable. If you reject yourself, you expect other people to push you aside. You expect to be ignored or rejected. When we reject ourselves in this way, we contradict God’s voice telling us that we are loved. This is something I have recognized in myself.

Questions for study:

  • Where do I go to find refuge against darkness and confusion?
  • What inner voices have been part of my life?
  • What persistent challenges have kept me in need of discernment? Have these challenges allowed me to assist others?
  • In what ways have I not grown, even as I pray and study and learn from others?

Real theological reflection is thinking with the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16); it is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of each day with the mind of Jesus, thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.

Henry Nouwen, Discernment

Knowing God

On the Proverbs 31 Ministries Facebook page, Lysa Terkeurst wrote that she has been saying a simple prayer each morning:

Lord I want to see You. I want to hear You. I want to know You, so I can follow hard after You.

I love this simple prayer. It reminds me of Lauren Daigle’s song “First” which is also about seeking God and knowing Him.

Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares
I will lift my arms
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
And seek You

To know and follow God is my heart’s prayer too, especially lately, with all the negativity in the world. At times like these, when faced with difficult choices to make, I want to follow God wholeheartedly and trust that He is in control.

Just a few weeks ago, I took a leap of faith and left my job of eight years not knowing what I am going to do next. I want to hear God and know what His plan is for me.

What does it mean to me to know God? To know God is:

  • to see a glimpse of his power and intelligence through the wonder of Creation
  • to revere Him because he is holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent
  • to see myself realistically; to be humbled. In seeing God’s perfection, I see how flawed I am. In seeing God’s power, I see how helpless I am.
  • to know just what is so amazing about grace because I know how wretched I am
  • to fully experience His mercy and forgiveness
  • to know that I am loved more than I can fathom
  • to trust that He will work everything out for my good. He has my back.
  • to trust that He is in control
  • to understand the kind of heart He has as demonstrated by Jesus Christ.
  • to know that He will never leave me nor forsake me
  • to fear Him and to desire to keep His commandments, knowing that He is a just and jealous God.
  • to be comforted in my sorrow
  • to be comforted when I am afraid. He is my refuge and strength.
  • to be thankful for the way He takes care of me and makes sure I have all I need
  • to have hope because He has promised that someday everything will be restored to its original glory. He will triumph over evil.
  • to want to glorify Him with my life
  • to know that I will spend eternity in his glorious presence

As much as I know God today through His word and His presence in my life, there is so much more I want to know. Lord, I want to know You. I will bring my heart and seek you first.