Integrity

Wednesday’s Words: True Confessions

I confess my sins; they fill me with anxiety. Psalm 38: 18

 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1: 8-9

 

Where did some of us get the idea we have to be perfect to earn God’s love? Why do we think we have to cover up our imperfections to be acceptable? The Bible’s filled with stories of God’s love and faithfulness—in spite of our sins. We turn our backs on God, not the other way around.

 

God knows our weaknesses better than we do and loves us anyway. What else is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son about? Or the parable commending the tax collector who acknowledged his sins, trusting God’s mercy, as opposed to the religious official whose prayer to God was a spiritual resume? Or Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross to do what we could never do for ourselves—perfectly obey our Creator? As St. Paul said, if we could put ourselves right with God by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2: 21)

 

Covering up our flaws is the world’s way, not God’s. Denying our wrongs, blaming others, creating excuses, that’s the way of the world. Trying to look good on the outside when we know the truth on the inside creates tension. No wonder the psalmist said his sins filled him with anxiety.

 

It doesn’t feel safe to be honest about our liabilities in the dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, it‘s a relief to be honest about our faults with God and with ourselves. Surely we can find at least one trusted human being we can trust to understand and to keep our sharing in confidence. It’s fundamental to recovery for countless people in Twelve Step programs. The Catholic Church has wisely recognized it as a means of obtaining God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It does our hearts good to come clean in a safe atmosphere, and what atmosphere could be safer than God’s welcoming arms?

 

Prayer: Lord, I trust in your mercy and love.

 

Reflection: What secrets are creating tension within you? How can you find a safe and trustworthy way to unburden yourself?

Wednesday’s Word: Temptation


“I will announce,” says the king, “what the Lord has declared. He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours…’” Psalm 2: 7b-8

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.” Matthew 4: 8-9

 

God the Father had already offered his Son all the nations of the world. What did the Devil hope to gain by offering  Jesus something that already belonged to him?

 

That’s how temptation works. Who’d be tempted by something false, damaging or undesirable? The devil is a liar whose only chance is to make something harmful appear good.

 

It isn’t always easy to see through the alluring promise of gratification to reality and the long-lasting effects of our choices. Temptation promises a good that evil can’t possibly deliver or offers a temporary reward that, in the long run, demands too high a price.

 

A quick drink, promising freedom from care and worry, might be fatal to an alcoholic. Another spending spree at the mall might be fun until credit card debt takes its toll. Lashing out may provide temporary relief to pent up emotions, but wreak havoc on our relationships. Belittling, gossiping about, or betraying a friend or co-worker might pump up our egos, get us off the hook, or even help us get ahead in the world, but is it worth losing our self-respect?

 

What if we gain the world and lose our soul? All for what? To feel important? Secure? Good about ourselves? The truth is,  we already have all we need to feel good. We are loved by God. We are precious to him. We are important by virtue of the fact that he loved us into being. Can we see that temptation is promising something we already have? Can we see we have nothing to gain but damaged relationships with God, with others, and with our own selves by trying to take a short cut to the good we already have?

 

Jesus saw through the immediate results of temptation to the long view that God’s perspective gives. He accepted the world his Father gave him and chose to love rather than lord over the nations. He saw through the Devil’s empty promises. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me see temptations for what they are.

 

Reflection: What looks good to you right now? How will it affect you in the long run?

Wednesday’s Words: True Self-worth

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My child, keep your self-respect, but remain modest. Value yourself at your true worth. There is no excuse for a person to run himself down. Sirach 10: 28-29a

 

It isn’t prideful to think we deserve respect. We all have inherent dignity as God’s children. Our worth isn’t dependent on our personal achievements, looks, bank accounts, or anything that sets us above others.

 

By the same token, we are not beneath other people because we have faults. There is no reason to put ourselves down because we aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. No one succeeds at everything. Welcome to the human race.

 

True self-respect comes from honestly acknowledging our total self-not just the parts we like to show the world, but the shadowy parts we all have as well. That’s enough to keep us modest.

 

We all have talents. We don’t have to hide them out of false modesty. We can acknowledge our gifts without fear of being prideful when we remember to be grateful to the Giver. We can feel good about ourselves when we use our gifts to be helpful to others rather than to show off.

 

We’re delightful, unique, flawed creatures loved by God. We don’t have to stick our noses in the air or hang our heads in shame. We can be who we are because we have, not false pride or false modesty, but true value.

 

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving me as I am. Help me become what you want me to be.

 

Reflection: What is your true worth?

Wednesday’s Word: Comparisons

iStock_000003550839XSmallYou should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. Galatians 6: 4

 

Comparing ourselves to others is a lose/lose situation. Tempting as it might be to prop up a fragile ego when we seem ahead, it’s a set-up for vanity and looking down on others. On the other hand, if others seem more talented or accomplished, we open ourselves to envy, resentment, or feelings of inadequacy. What have we got to gain except a false sense of superiority or inferiority? Why bother? Life is not a contest.

 

That doesn’t mean we can’t shine. If we focus on what we are doing and we’re doing our best, we can feel good about ourselves. We can take healthy pride in our best efforts and their results. We can be grateful for the abilities we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities to use them. It doesn’t matter how that stacks up against someone else’s gifts or accomplishments. Besides, there’s never a level playing field. We are all individuals with different physical traits, backgrounds, opportunities. Why compare?

 

What’s stopping us from feeling good about ourselves? If what we’ve done is good, it’s good. Other people’s achievements can’t take away the goodness of our efforts. Other people’s lack of achievement can’t make our efforts any better than they are.

 

Judging our own conduct keeps us grounded in reality and focused on what we have control over—ourselves. That sounds like freedom to me.

 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for my abilities. Help me focus on using them as you want me to today.

 

Reflection: What have you done today that you can feel good about?

Wednesday’s Word: Reflection

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe made the bronze basin and its bronze base out of the mirrors belonging to the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence. Exodus 38: 8

 

The priests had to cleanse themselves before they approached God’s altar.  The basin they used was made up of mirrors. Preparing to enter into God’s presence involves reflection.

 

An honest look at ourselves reveals what’s really within us instead of what we wish was there. Only by seeing ourselves as we really are can we know ourselves as God already knows us. Once we see what blocks us from moving closer to God, we can cooperate with the cleansing process.

 

We don’t have to be afraid to look within. God already sees our truth and loves us as we are—warts and all. As we are refreshed and cleansed by the living water God provides, we’re empowered to enter more fully into God’s presence. Chances are the more we reflect on his image, the more our lives will come to mirror his. The women mentioned in the above passage originally used the mirrors to see their own reflection. Eventually they served at the entrance of the Tent and helped others prepare to draw closer to God. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Lord help me see myself clearly.

 

Reflection: What do you see when you look within? Can you allow God to shine the light of his love on your imperfections?

Wednesday’s Word: Denial

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The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over. Proverbs 4: 19

 

The story goes that a man went to the doctor and said, “Doc, when I touch my forehead, I have pain. When I touch my elbow, I have pain. When I touch my knee, I have pain.” The doctor said, “I know what the problem is. You have a broken finger.”

 

It’s not always easy to see the source of our pain. Sometimes we look for causes outside ourselves when the source of our problem is within us. We’d rather blame someone else, rotten luck, or our surroundings instead of taking responsibility ourselves. Yes, there are circumstances beyond our control and other people’s actions can be detrimental, but we often play a part in the difficulties.

 

If we spend all our time looking to prove the problem has nothing to do with us, we may sentence ourselves to a lifetime of complaining–because we can’t see what we keep stumbling over. No one can see well in the darkness of denial. The good news is, when we’re willing to look within ourselves there’s hope. Once we identify what, in us, is tripping us up, there’s hope of correcting it. We may be powerless over other people and over many situations, but we do have power over our own choices. Although we might not be able to singlehandedly make ourselves the way we’d like to be, we can find the help we need.

 

It can be scary to have the light shine on things we’d prefer to keep hidden, but the light doesn’t create the problem, it just reveals what’s already there. The Light of the world will shine not only his light, but his love, on the secret places in our hearts, if we’ll let him. Can the God of love, who commanded us to love both our neighbor and ourselves do any less? It is safe to let him lovingly show us the truth about ourselves. It’s a lot safer to walk in light than in darkness.

 

Prayer: Lord, shine the light of your truth on what I need to see today.

 

Reflection: What stumbling block might be tripping you up today? What would it take to entrust yourself to God’s light and love?

Wednesday’s Word: Rumors

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Have you heard a rumor? Let it die with you. Be brave! It won’t make you explode! Sirach 19: 10

 

What is it about spreading rumors? Even before social media, juicy tidbits got passed around by word of mouth, based on “reliable” sources like, “My cousin’s girlfriend’s hairdresser knew a guy who…”

 

Why do we join in? Maybe it feeds our egos to feel in the know. Maybe it makes us feel one of the crowd. Maybe we’re afraid no one will pay attention to us unless we have exciting news…but where will our credibility be if the rumor ends up being false?

 

Even if it’s a harmless “unconfirmed” news item, why pass it on? Be brave! Keeping that hot gossip to yourself might feel like it will make you explode, but it won’t.

 

We don’t need to prop up our self-esteem with attention-grabbing rumors. We can tune them out by changing the channel. Our worth is guaranteed as children of God. Exploring and following His plan for us will give us plenty to share with others.

 

Prayer: Lord, keep me anchored in your truth.

 

Reflection: What’s the payoff for spreading rumors? What are better ways to get that satisfaction?

Wednesday’s Words: Love Power

iStock_000003550839XSmall“…But to the people of Judah I will show love. I, the Lord their God, will save them, but I will not do it by war—with swords or bows and arrows or with horses and horsemen.”  Hosea 1: 7

 

God saves us by love, not war. Hate can’t be conquered with hate. That only generates more hate on both sides. Responding to hate with love shows up hatred for what it is and refuses to justify it. Jesus didn’t respond to violence with violence. He was victorious without resorting to the enemy’s tactics. Love is more powerful than hate.

 

When twelve-year-old Maria Goretti’s neighbor forced himself on her sexually, she resisted. Enraged, he stabbed her 14 times. As he attacked her, she expressed concern for his soul. As she died because of her wounds, she forgave her attacker. Her forgiving love haunted him for years. While in prison, he converted. Upon release, he begged Maria’s mother for forgiveness and lived out the rest of his life as a Capuchin monk. Such is the power of love.

 

Who doesn’t want to lash out when we’re being attacked? Choosing not to respond to hate with hate takes amazing strength and courage. We can’t do it on our own, but only by the power of Christ’s spirit within us. Love doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings and it doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be abused. There are times we need to defend ourselves and others. But, with God’s power, we don’t have to allow hurtful assaults to tarnish our nature. Responding to hate with love takes a miracle, but God is in the business of miracles when we trust him.

 

Prayer: Lord, teach us the power of love.

 

Reflection: How can you appropriate God’s loving power in the face of antagonism?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 19

OurMrSun-PsalmsHow clearly the sky reveals God’s glory! How plainly it shows what he has done!

Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next.

The law of the Lord is perfect; it gives new strength.

None of us can see our own errors; deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults!

Keep me safe, also, from willful sins; don’t let them rule over me… Psalm 19: 1-2; 7; 12-13

 

Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian, constructed an intricate working model of the solar system. Awed by the complex model, an atheist colleague asked, “Who made this?”

“Nobody,” Sir Isaac shrugged, “it just happened.”

Insulted, the colleague stated that was impossible; somebody had to have designed and made something so complex. Sir Isaac replied that the actual universe was so much more complex but his visitor was convinced there was no designer or creator.

 

Apparently, Sir Isaac agreed with the psalmist’s claim that the sky itself reveals God and his glory. The regular workings of the universe—the things we understand and the things we don’t—demonstrate God’s greatness. The laws of gravity, aerodynamics, and the like, are perfect. So is the law of love that Jesus said was most important: loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Considering this perfect law of love, it’s no wonder the psalmist begged for deliverance from both hidden faults and willful sins. If we can’t resist the wrongs we do when self-will gets the better of us, how can we keep ourselves from the wrongs we aren’t even aware of? Our only hope is God’s grace.

 

Once a family member confronted me about a habit I had of belittling her. I never realized that my “joking” had been hurtful until she pointed it out. The fact that it wasn’t on my radar didn’t make the hurt I caused any less painful to her. I’m grateful she challenged me. With God’s grace, I had the opportunity to change. There have also been times when, although of aware of the right thing, I made a different choice…sometimes out of fear, sometimes because I simply wanted my way.

 

As perfect as God’s law is, and as much as we’d like to obey, we are human and will fail, both willfully and inadvertently. Who else but God can deliver us? The good news is we can trust his wisdom, his power, and his love.

 

I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever passage speaks to you today. Here are some questions to help you get started.

 

  • How do you find God’s glory revealed in nature?
  • In what ways can reflecting on God’s perfect law strengthen you?
  • When have you been tripped up by self-will? When might you have hurt someone without being aware of it?
  • Why is it safe to trust the God of glory to deliver you from your faults?

Saturday Spotlight: Psalm 15

OurMrSun-PsalmsLord, who may enter your Temple? Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?

Those who obey God in everything and always do what is right, whose words are true and sincere, and who do not slander others.

They do no wrong to their friends nor spread rumors about their neighbors.

They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost.

They make loans without charging interest and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will always be secure. Psalm 15: 1-3; 5b

 

Who can live up to all that? It sounds like we need to be perfect to worship God. But David, who wrote this psalm, didn’t live up to this himself. He had his neighbor Uriah killed so that David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife wouldn’t be discovered. Talk about wronging a friend!

 

And yet David is referred to in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. Why? Maybe because he met an important qualification listed in the psalm. David was one of those…whose words are true and sincere… David was honest about his failings. When his wrongdoing was pointed out to him he admitted it and asked for God’s forgiveness.

 

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee prayed by reciting his merits—maybe he was trying to prove he lived up to Psalm 15. In contrast, the tax collector honestly admitted his sin and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus tells us it was the tax collector who rightly connected with God.

 

If we’re honest we have to admit we can’t live up to perfect ideals this side of heaven. In fact, trying to appear perfect is a recipe for hypocrisy. It paves the way for slandering others, so our own wrongdoings don’t seem so bad. Integrity is so much better than a veneer of respectability. When we’re honest we’re secure because we have nothing to hide. Our insides match our outsides. We don’t have to live in fear of being found out. Not that we shouldn’t try to live up to our values, but when we fail—as we will—we can, like David, own our mistakes and go to the God of mercy and love, our true source of security.

 

This psalm is a great format for taking an examination of conscience that can lead the way to receiving God’s forgiveness.

  • What tempts you to put your will above God’s?
  • When have you not lived up to your conscience?
  • In what ways have you been less than honest?
  • Have you gossiped or spread rumors?
  • When have you not kept a promise?
  • In what ways have you sold out?
  • How do these weaknesses contribute to your insecurity or discomfort?
  • Are you willing to bring them to God?
  • Can you trust that God loves you as you are?

I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever words or phrases speak to you today.

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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