Here’s a challenge: How about some honest soul-searching? Come on – stay with me – it’ll be fun! Okay, it probably won’t be fun if we are actually honest. But let’s give it a go.
For most of my life, I have not allowed myself to admit I screw-up. Doing things like making instant judgments about other people or becoming a modern-day Job when God seems to be pushing my buttons or ignoring my demands. I decide daily how things should be and then set out to make myself, you, and God conform. It’s a full-time job, and it’s exhausting. Oh, wait! Maybe I don’t have to tell you. Perhaps you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I should, you should, we should, they should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should, God should. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, I should let go of that hurt – NAH.
Have I left anything out? We are obsessed with shoulds and calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what should be. Then we adjust our lives accordingly.
What if we were given the power to enact all the most significant shoulds we have ever envisioned? What would they be? This is pretty broad, so let’s make three categories:
- My shoulds.
- Everyone else’s shoulds.
- God’s shoulds
Let’s begin with these:
- I should be thinner, smarter, prettier, and healthier; exercise more and eat less.
- I should be more forgiving and less judgmental.
- I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
- I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
- I should be perfect by now.
- Chocolate should not be fattening (it’s my list!)
Everyone else’s shoulds:
- People should be more generous and less self-serving.
- Wicked people should be blown up. (Oops, too extreme?)
- Wicked people should be allergic to chocolate. (Better?)
- People should love and accept each other.
- People should mind their own business.
- People should be more like me. Then we’ll all be fine!
- God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
- God should punish all evil, sinful people – except me.
- God should make people behave.
- There should be some reward for those who are good…like…hum…I know! Chocolate would not be fattening for us – no one else – just us!
God created everything, and when he was finished, he said, “I’m pretty awesome – even if I do say so myself”. “Well, okay, I could have tweaked that goofy Linda a bit (I won’t be making another one of those any time soon).” Think about it. As soon as God created everything on the earth, he declared it “good”. He doesn’t wait until we prove ourselves for him to admire his work.
And there it is, people! Even though God was perfectly happy about his creation, he was also well aware of the likely outcome of giving us mortals a free will. “I made everything perfect, then you guys screwed it up just as I thought you would. So I made love and forgiveness my signature MO. Try not to abuse it, ok?”
No one is without fault. Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who does good, no, not one.” Not one stinkin’ one of us.
Why is that so hard for us to accept? I believe I know. It’s probably because we are unwilling to be vulnerable or dare to be imperfect. I know. I have lived most of my life refusing to believe the simple truth that I AM ENOUGH, which, in turn, does not allow me to accept you as enough.
God tells us that we should have the faith of a child. Unfortunately, as a child, I was made to believe, by those who were supposed to take care of my tender heart, that I was not good enough, not worthy of love. I eventually stopped allowing myself to be vulnerable and tried desperately to hide as much of my imperfections as possible. I still do at times.
I could not accept my own brokenness or the brokenness of others. I viewed everyone and everything through that lens, even God. Everyone was suspect. This is the false self Richard Rohr speaks of often, “The false self is your psychological creation of yourself in space and time. It comes from your early conditioning, family, roles, education, mind, culture, and religion. The false self is who you think you are! But thinking doesn’t make it so. The false self dies and passes away. Yet it is the raw material through which you discover your True Self in God.”
As I began to sit in prayer with God, I gradually grew to realize that he could be trusted with my fragile heart – and it began to change. I grew to recognize that he not only admonished me for my sinfulness but loved me in spite of it. I began to love and accept myself and others in a way I had never experienced before. As I let go of the hurt and pain of my past, others began to lose their stronghold on me.
Now, Saint Mother Theresa, I am not. DUH! I still do, and am sure I always will screw up.
The Spirit of God lives and works and has its being within us 24/7. Not just when it’s convenient for us. Of course, we would prefer God be “on-call” because the idea of him“hanging out” there conjures up all kinds of frightful thoughts. Being “busted” comes to mind for me.
Here’s what happens when you arrive at the place where you can hear God’s still small voice through the thunder of your own wretchedness. Often, I will become defensive with someone and strike out at them to preserve my fragile ego. Usually, it looks like this, “You idiot! You ________(fill in the blank)”. There, I got it out. I’m feeling better already. Never mind how it made you feel!
Then it comes, almost immediately, “So, Linda…yeah…what he/she did was pretty stupid (my ego still intact at this point. A bit of gloating showing through.)”. But…
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
“But, Linda. Remember, just last week when you did the exact same thing?” Shoot! Busted! “Lord, why couldn’t you be somewhere else right now instead of all up in my business?” And off I go to apologize. But it’s okay. I can now laugh at myself and carry on. We have to laugh at ourselves, or this whole business of acceptance fails to work because we become too overwhelmed with our failures.
Let’s call it getting back to basics. God calls us to the childlike innocence, love, and joy he originally created. Children are full of contagious laughter, silliness, trusting innocence, vulnerability, and curiosity.
If you have expectations for yourself and others that are beyond human capacity, you will always be disappointed. We are all broken and incapable of being the perfect parent or child or friend or neighbor. God calls us in our suffering to lean in on him and draw life and fullness from him. Understanding that helped me to forgive my mother long ago. As a child, I hated her; as I grew older, being honest, I realized she did the best she could. She was simply incapable of being the mother I needed her to be.
So, cut yourself and others some slack. Like Father Rohr says, “Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil, we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God….That is not a put-down of anybody or anything, but actually creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18)
So, come on, let’s begin with a simple step: laugh at yourself at least once today and then sit down for a while, be quiet, and contemplate the experience in the context of the imperfection of all things. Let me know how that turns out.