You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 11, 2010.

Every day we take time for introspection, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Maybe it’s because of something we did or said, often in reaction to someone else. 

The other day I was queuing at the supermarket.  Two tills were open.  Two women were in front of me.  At the other till, a woman said to the cashier, ‘Sorry, I’ve forgotten something.  Can I just run off and get the item?’  The man behind the counter nodded.  The woman dashed off.

Meanwhile, in my line, the customer was putting away her debit card, tucking it in her pocketbook.  She would be finished in a matter of seconds.  The woman behind her (and in front of me) would get her purchases rung up in no time.  But that wasn’t good enough for her.  She couldn’t wait 30 seconds.  No, she had to dart across to the man at the other till, the man who was waiting for the woman to come back with her forgotten item. The woman from my queue ran up to him and asked, ‘Can you ring this up for me?’  I just glared at her.  By the time he said yes, I was where she would have been had she just waitedPatience, woman! Of course, you may say, ‘That means you got checked out even quicker, Churchmouse.  What’s the problem?’  Perhaps, but why couldn’t the other woman just have waited her turn?  Oh, no, the inconvenience of it all!  I glared at her.  She just looked at me.  I don’t know if she felt a pang of conscience or if she knew she was being impatient.  Maybe I was being too harsh on her.  I don’t know.  Perhaps each of us had a valid point.

We all have similar experiences every day.  I recently ran across a Peacemaker Ministries article called ‘Be Kind’, which deals with this subject in the words of Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived during Jesus’s time.  Philo said:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

The author, Fred Barthel, makes two good points worth remembering on our next foray out into the world:

1. Be charitable in your judgments toward others. People are not always how they seem. What’s going on on the outside is often so different than what’s happening on the inside. We are often quick to categorize someone as “friend” or “enemy” based on the external. And it usually doesn’t take much to dump someone into the “enemy” camp. Maybe it’s the waitress that gets your order wrong, the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or even the pastor who failed to minister to you in the way you expected. Do you even consider the battle that they might be facing? It’s not an excuse for sin on their part, but thinking about what struggles they are facing might help move us toward a little more compassion, a little more prayer, and a little more patience.

2. Realize that you aren’t alone in your own battle. We tend to isolate ourselves in our struggles, thinking that, “Look. Everyone else has it ALL together. No one struggles with _______ like me. I’m the only one.” My wife calls it the “Myth of Chronic Uniqueness.” This sense that we are alone in our struggles makes us reticent to share those burdens with others. But the irony is that is that if we only knew the struggles others are facing, we wouldn’t feel so alone, and we could fight those battles together. More than likely, your brother or sister in Christ is fighting the same battle you are. And only when we let each other know what’s really going on will we be able to truly bear one another’s burdens and encourage one another in the fight.

Another thing to remember is not to get too bogged down in our faults.  Okay, so we’re short-tempered one day.  That doesn’t mean were 100% evil.  I know of people who get really stuck in bad habits.  ‘Well, it’s just how I am.’  Maybe — sometimes — that’s true.  But that’s not true all the time.  Getting us to continually navel-gaze at our faults is one of the Devil’s best tricks.  He’s trying to tell us that we’re irredeemable when we’re not.  We are God’s creation.  We are here to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world.  So, let’s pray for the help we need to work through our faults and do what God wants us to do.  Let’s remember the Risen Christ who suffered on the Cross.  Let’s get out of ourselves and start thinking about other people. 

For the past year, I’ve been working at not having a pity party.  Every time I get stuck into an ‘Oh, woe is me’ rut, I make myself do something for someone else — fix a special dinner, run an errand for someone, doing something productive that will make someone else happy.  It works. 

However, there is another element often wrapped up in the pity party mindset, which is guilt.  Guilt has its purpose — it brings about remorse, contrition.  But, it shouldn’t unconsciously be used as a means for excess self-introspection, self-absorption or as an excuse not to change our behaviour.  Those who refuse to change are often misusing guilt.  Guilt is not meant to be a lifestyle choice. It’s meant to be the catalyst for repentance — ‘turning around’ — and improving our lives through the grace of God.  Do those who feel perpetually guilty have a true and lively faith?  Guilt can put people in stasis.  Yes, we’re all sinners, but let’s not use that as an excuse for refusing to do God’s will.  ‘Oh, but I’m not refusing.’  Oh, yes, some part of you is because you revel in the guilt.  It becomes falsely synonymous with holiness, yet produces nothing.

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (p. 626):

We have taught that the sinner does not dwell upon his own compunction or tears, but fixes both eyes upon the Lord’s mercy alone…it makes a great difference whether you teach forgiveness of sins as deserved by just and full contrition, which the sinner can never perform; or whether you enjoin him to hunger and thirst after God’s mercy.

In other words, we can never make a perfect contrition for our sins.  Therefore, let us seek God’s forgiveness of the result of our fallen state and work at bringing ourselves to maturity in Christ.  We can do this through prayer and Scripture reading.  We cannot do it by dwelling on our past transgressions every minute of the day.   

This world isn’t just about us — it’s about our families, friends and neighbours, too.  Every second we spend focusing on ourselves in a guilt-induced spiral is less time devoted to God and to experiencing His generous grace and mercy.

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