Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Sobering

"And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable:
Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.
I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O god, be merciful to me a sinner.
I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather that the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14

I'm reminded of this parable often -- when I find myself passing judgment and, ironically, when I notice others passing judgment.

But recently, I've begun to see it in a new light. I think I might be the Pharisee, and I think the tax collector ("publican") might be me. (No, you didn't read that wrong.)

I've noticed in myself lately a dastardly and dangerous mindset: that I am less in need of God's help than I was four, five, eight, ten years ago. The impression has only recently surfaced in a tangible way, but I wonder how long I have carried it unconsciously, how much it has impacted my prayer life, and how much it has affected my relationship with my Father.

I find myself thinking, "Well, I may have sinned this way, but at least I don't sin like that anymore." What would, for a good and saintly person, be a point of thanksgiving and reflection and prayer, becomes for me a way of self-consoling, a few pats on the back. "You suck, but at least you don't suck as hard as you did back then."

Don't get me wrong -- it is good, and I am glad, that I am not like the person I used to be. What worries me isn't that I've noticed. What worries me is that I see it as a reason to relax, as a reason I don't need to pray as hard or as often.

In my unconscious mind I stand at the front of the temple of my heart, but unlike the Pharisee, who at very least prayed, I sit in the front pew and organize my schedules, my plans, my finances, and occasionally look up to say, "Jesus help this person," or "Jesus bless that person," all the while neglecting to notice how desperately I need Jesus in the matters directly in front of me, let alone, in myself.

And sometimes, for whatever reason, I look to the back, to the years behind me, and see myself struggling, searching, unrecognizable. Whether it's prompted by greeting an old friend or teacher who compliments me, "You've changed," or scrolling through my Facebook memories, cringing as often as I laugh -- whatever it is, I look back, and I don't think, "Thank you, God, for not giving up on me and for helping me and for being with me now." I think, "Good for me. Thank you, God, that I'm not like that. Okay, back to me."

See, in addition to my years of struggling emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically, searching for happiness and for God and for peace of mind, I was a sinner, just like I am today, but in different and more extreme, more externally manifest ways. It is easy, now, for me to look back and scoff at the person I was -- the precious and beloved daughter of God trying and failing and trying and failing -- and think I'm so much better now that I fail and say sorry and fail and say sorry and fail and say sorry. "At least," I think, "I don't do that." "At least I'm over that." "At least I was able to pull myself out of that one."

Until in a sobering moment I fear, if God could have his pick between me then and me now, I'll bet he'd prefer the sincere one, the one who loves him for his own sake, the one who wants to belong to him but feels weighed down by sin, rather than the one who wants to belong to this and that but feels, occasionally, weighed down by religion.

But, reality maintains: God wants me. He's always, only ever wanted me, and for me to want him back. And that's the problem.

The me in the back of my life, some short years ago, wants God's mercy. The me in the last few weeks expects God's mercy, and further, expects to get by in life, even the spiritual life, without God's help.

Four, five, eight, ten years ago, I was fighting for sobriety from so many things which ruled my life. Today, I am in constant need of the sobering reminder that I need God. I need God's help to free me from the sins I think aren't as bad in comparison to those of my past. I need God's forgiveness for times I've been insincere and lax and unloving and unkind. I need God to show me, in the plain light of Christ, why the sins I quietly commit in my heart will kill my soul until it's just as dead as it would have been had he not intervened to save me from the sins I committed in the visible world.

And God knows that need. And he wants to meet that need. Once more, as always, I am an undeserving sinner before a mighty God -- whether I be in the front with my pride or the back with my anguish.

But at least God remains forgiving.