(The E-pistles from 02.14 thru 03.28 will be essays on what we could give up for Lent and Easter: wholeness, expectations, superiority, enemies, control, popularity, our lives and death. Rather than foregoing ice cream or the internet for a season, these ‘sacrifices’ are to become permanent, weaning ourselves strarting now for a stronger spirit and richer life as we travel ahead.)
We want to be successful. Liked. Healthy. Wise. Strong. Even-tempered. Compassionate. Useful. Together.
All positive things in and of themselves. In one person in proper proportion, they’d make for a “Mensch.” A Somebody. Even a saint. But few of us have the whole list. Or the light recipe and mix.
So we do a lot of faking. Pretending we’re more accomplished and understanding and brave and popular and integrated than we are. We strike a pose. You might call it “invulnerable poise.”
There’s much pathos in this. We’re all unfinished. Even tragically flawed. But we don’t want to face that. Much less wear it on our sleeve.
When we do let ourselves or are forced to come up against our lesser selves, we worry we’re uniquely insufficient. And we try to hide our vulnerability, lest we be exposed and hurt. Like kids trying to look more grown up that they are, we play dress up (even if the sleeves extend way beyond our reach).
Aiming for what one hasn’t attained isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. It can be helpful whether you’re trying to swim against the tide of lesser motivations or reach some distant shore.
The problem comes when in our wishfulness, we start to fool ourselves… often before we fool others. Mistaking where we’d like to be for where we actually are, we miss the crucial distance between the former and the latter. We fail to acknowledge the ground we hope to cover. And all those hard questions about the changes we might need to make to move ahead.
Here’s one of those questions we least welcome entertaining: In light of the problems you face, are solutions even in your grasp? Or more directly, can you expect to make it on your own? Or are your difficulties such that you need help beyond yourself?
In faking ourselves out, we sell ourselves short by foregoing asking to be healed of what we cannot do ourselves. A line from one of my favorite prayers of confession — one we’ve now used a few times at Old First — has us admit that “alone we cannot be healed.’
Our pretensions to wholeness are a framework for too much self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Only when we make wiggle room in that distance between how we are and how we hope to be… there we give God more space to work in our lives.
That’s room we create by admitting we’re not together. That we can’t quite get it all together. Or keep it together. There’s where we give up trying so hard on our own and begin, at least a little, to ask, entrust God to work for us.
I’m not asking for public confessions. There will be no long lists in worship, “how I’ve failed” or “where my life is most messy.” (Although some of our lives are pretty messy, and all of ours are at one time or another.)
I am asking, however, that this Lenten season, you make room in your defenses to acknowledge your life’s broken parts. The unfinished pieces. Where it doesn’t quite fit together, and you are still puzzled.
Rather than to be denied, this is a very human place in our hearts. Even as it’s the place where you are often feel overwhelmed and frightened.
It’s also the place God can draw near. Instead of something pushed down or suppressed (that nonetheless gets between you and God), this infinitesimal space can become common ground with God. Almost God’s landing pad into your life. Where God can most easily meet you.
Admit it: whatever your brokenness is, it’s more than you can handle alone. Asking for help, you’ll find there’s compassion, companionship and comfort. And maybe in time healing…
Read Galatians 2:15-21, and contemplate the ways your life is in pieces… then offer them to God, who in love, can deal with them — hold them and rearrange them — in new ways.
See you in church,