Monday, August 20, 2012

What Good Must I Do?

Gospel Mt 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said,
"Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?"
He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."
He asked him, "Which ones?"
And Jesus replied, "You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The young man said to him,
"All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?"
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
This passage always astounds me.  I'm not so surprised by the part about giving away all our possessions.  I am attracted by a simple lifestyle.

The astounding - yea confounding part -- is earlier in the passage when  the young man says to Jesus, "All of these I have observed . . ."

Really? Some involve mortal sin so it seems quite plausible that one  is not guilty of them right this instant: 

  • You shall not kill.  (Check)
  • You shall not commit adultery. (Check)
  • You shall not steal. (Check) 
  • You shall not bear false witness. (Hmmm)
  • Honor your father and mother.  (Uhhm, is it open to interpretation?)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Clunk)
These are not easy imperatives here, friends. I tend to focus on the end of the passage -- the part about storing up treasure in heaven -- and not notice what is truly being asked of me. It's right here where I live and really, if I just pay attention to that last one -- love your neighbor as yourself -- the others are part and parcel of it, aren't they?

My post a few days ago on forgiveness generated a flurry of side email conversations about just how hard it is to forgive -- and how easy it is to slip back into resentment -- but it is truly all about the Greatest Commandment:  "Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your mind and and with all your soul and . . . love your neighbor as yourself."  I am, I admit, quick to forgive myself. Not for the big offenses, necessarily -- I like to carry those around a while -- but the "little" things like laziness, sloth, and envy; I forgive those in myself so quickly.  And yet, it really is asking a lot to forgive them in someone else.  

A couple of days ago I came face to face with my "neighbor."  This is a person with whom I have significant history.  On the face of it, the issues are all on "her" side -- she was the one "in the wrong," so to speak, and you'd have a hard time finding anyone to argue the reverse.  Yet, I am sure that at some point in our long history I sinned against her too; I have to dig for it a bit but it's there just under the surface.  After our falling out, I talked about it more than I should and I did so with bitterness.  I eventually confessed this to her but I needn't have; she had already suffered discrimination because of my words. I did forgive her (and I believe she has forgiven me) and I have to tell you, it sits easy with me. I do get quite nervous around her, but I think -- in all honesty -- that part is my mind-talk.  I am reminded each time too, that forgiveness is a process; it happens over time and requires (in my experience) many conscious acts of choice.

It's a lot to ask of one's self. Yet it is my path to perfection, isn't it?  If I "wish to enter into life," I have to "keep the commandments;" here is the path right here in the Gospel of Matthew. Guess I'd better put down the lap top enter into prayers for forgiveness, right here, right now!  Cheers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yelling at the Kids, the Big Oopsie

And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and revling must be removed from you, along with all malice.
[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Every day, this is my testing ground.  Why does it so often seem easier to be cynical, surly, or a sourpuss?  It isn't actually easier of course, but sin often looks easier, doesn't it?  

I am normally nice to strangers -- helpful, friendly, compassionate, even.  It is so much harder at home.  It's hard not to hold resentment, especially the unnoticed little niggling annoyances that simmer and grow just beneath the surface.  You know the ones: the kid who leaves her shoes in the middle of the entryway, again; the well-meaning aunt who calls every day at supper time; the little one who seems to argue every time I open my mouth.  

These little "annoyances", unnoticed and unchecked, grow quickly into animosity and resentment.  One day I wake up and a big, mean monster is on my shoulder, pecking away at my patience and growling at everyone.

Yet today's second reading really speaks to it, doesn't it?  "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice" (italics mine).  

Oops.  I have to be compassionate and forgiving, or I am grieving the Holy Spirit.   If I choose to hold resentment, I am choosing to sin. 

Yet we all know it is not as easy as deciding to be compassionate.  In order to forgive, I must first notice and clear the resentment:  
  • The first step is letting go of my need to be right and allowing myself to be vulnerable.  
  • In order to do that, I have to truly own up to what I am getting out of the resentment, the payoff, as it were.  
  • Then before I can finally be free, I also have to take a candid look at what the grudge is costing me in terms of my peace of mind, my integrity, my mental and physical health, even my finances.   
  • Then and only then can I fully forgive and finally be free.  
  • Lastly, I have to make choices about how I will make amends and how I can avoid falling into the same trap of resentment again.
What is truly amazing to me is that nowhere in this process nor in the directive from Ephesians does it say, "forgive if the other person is right" or "forgive if the kid is not actually annoying you" or "forgive if you are completely to blame."  It simply (and solely) says, "forgiving one another as Christ forgave you,"  which was wholly, completely, unconditionally and undeserved.  So  . . . it's all about me.  It's all on my side; it's my work to do.

If it sounds like a lot of work well, on the face of it, it is.  In the end -- and it is a little hard to admit this -- forgiveness is actually the easier path.  Resentment is like a rock carried on the shoulders; it weighs us down and hunches us over.  It gets us all scrunched up on the inside.  It's a cancer that slowly eats away at that within us that truly lives to love.  In other words, it steals our souls.

Forgiveness is the life-giving water.  It is the stream that courses through the desert and deeply refreshes.  It's the path that looks thorny, rocky and steep at first, but turns out to be the short-cut to paradise.   

But definitely don't take my word for it, taste it for yourself.  You'll be back to drink from the wellspring of forgiveness again!

Post Script (thanks, Aunt Kathy):
The thing I forgot to say is what comes after all of this.  When I notice my resentment, handle it and own it -- then and only then, I get to have gratitude for all that I have.  And you know, I have a lot.  A lot of love, a lot of kids, a beautiful home, a great hubby and family.  As long as I'm thinking my unhappiness is someone else's fault, then I am not getting to be grateful for my many blessings!