With Lent fast approaching (it starts tomorrow), I thought a blog about repentance and sin would be appropriate. I must admit that I’m new at this. I wasn’t raised to tell all my shortcomings to a priest, a friend or even God. In fact, I felt—and this is just what I felt, not what I was taught—that I was supposed to let the past be past. Forget about it and press on. However, this is not what I believe God wants for me. I also don’t believe that He wants extreme guilt followed by periods of penance—fasting, sleeping on the ground, making up for it by being good. These things can be done as a way of preparing my heart to receive from him, preparing the soil for the seeds, but I don’t see them as a way of paying for my sins.
My wife and I have been talking about sin as two things. Not primarily breaking a law, but more like missing the target in archery due to a sickness. Sin is offensive to God, but He does not demand reparations for these offenses. Rather, he sees the ways in which we are wounding ourselves and others and seeks to heal our wounds. I think this is part of why He is called the Great Physician. “He was bruised for our transgressions, pierced for our iniquities…by His stripes we are healed”, it says in Isaiah. “Lord, I have sinned against You, heal my soul”, says the Psalmist. It is healthy (no pun intended) to look at our sins as a sickness in need of healing.
That said, it is hard to see our own sin, to diagnose our illness.
My brother-in-law was sick just recently. He had an unidentifiable spot on his lungs. The doctors had no clue what it was. They gave him no treatment, no prescription. They only knew that something was wrong. Clinical tests were done, an MRI was conducted, but to no avail. They evened it down, I think, to either West Nile or Mono, but neither of these really fit the bill. My brother’s breathing and coughing got worse, the spot seemed to be growing. Then, without treatment or medicine, it slowly began to recede.
I’m using this story as analogy (I use too many of these) for sinful passions. Sometimes, we only see the symptoms. We may search our hearts and minds, the depths of our souls, for the cause of our depression, despair, anxiety, pride, lust, fear, or vanity, but we never find it. Like a breath on a cold morning, it’s there, then it dissipates into seeming nothingness until the next time we start to wallow in self-pity and despair, or worry frantically about the smallest things, or crave women (or men), food or drink to satisfy our bodily desires.
God sees this. He knows intimately how we are made. He made us. He, himself, became man and was “tempted in every way” just as we are, but He never sinned. And it is just that intimacy and freedom from sin that He uses to begin the healing process. We should make every effort to search out, target our sins and present them to God, but there’s no way any one of us could know them all. If you could, you would be overwhelmed.
That’s why God doesn’t expect us to overcome all our sins at once. Rather, at least this has been my experience, he gives us a little to work on each day. I’ve started the discipline of sitting down with a pencil and paper and searching my life for signs of sickness. This is not a time for me to get all guilty and bent out of shape. I ask God to show me my sin so that it can be purged and I can be made well. With this can come a lot of pain. I simply write it down and then move on. I’ve saved some of the pages (ahh!), but I hope to go over them with my Pastor someday soon and tear them all up. There is a time to let the past be past.
The goal in telling all the things I’m most ashamed of is communion with God, His real presence in me each and every moment. He challenges, He convicts, He punishes, but ultimately He does this so the He can heal me and bring me back to Him and to the people and things he has given me to love. This morning I prayed the prayer of Ephrem the Syrian as part of my morning prayer and confession. I’ll leave this blog with a quote of it.
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give to me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power or idle talk,
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, love and patience to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren. For blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.