Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. Titus 3: 2-3a
It’s so hard to keep from judging others. People do some stupid, infuriating, hurtful things. So how do we begin?
We might start by admitting that if we’re looking at others’ failings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any ourselves; it just means we aren’t paying attention to them. So when we find ourselves looking down on others, it might help to call to mind the times we’ve done thoughtless, hurtful things. In fact, the things that annoy us most about others are often the very traits we have ourselves. You spot it, you got it, as they say.
We don’t have to beat ourselves up over the poor choices we’ve made. We can be honest about them and still offer ourselves some compassion. Prostitutes and tax collectors flocked to Jesus. He welcomed those who were well-aware of their own shortcomings. We tend to be open and receptive to those who are friendly and welcoming.
When we ease up on ourselves, we naturally ease up on others, too. We’re all in this together. Only One is perfect and he offered himself for us and for those we look down on.
Prayer: Lord, help me see myself and others with eyes of compassion.
Reflection: Who do you look down on? What do you have in common with them?
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?
“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63
Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.
When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth: forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.
Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.
Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?
Although destruction of sinners might conjure up harsh images, it reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote. When told he should destroy his enemies instead of trying to befriend them, Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
It would seem that God’s amazing plan for destroying sinners is to offer them his mercy. We’re told that God is love, a love demonstrated by Jesus’ death and resurrection. He lavished unconditional love on us by his willingness to suffer and die for us. He lavished forgiveness on the enemies who mocked, abused, and crucified him.
God chooses to destroy sinners—and we’re all sinners—by forgiving us and welcoming us back into the loving relationship broken by sin. But God is a lover who respects the free will he gave us. He won’t force his will on us. He leaves us free to accept or reject his invitation, an invitation that involves dying to self and rising to new life in him. The choice is up to us.
Prayer: Lord, lead me away from the self-destructive choices that keep me from your love.
Reflection: What in you needs to be destroyed by God’s unconditional love?
Don’t be angry with someone for every little thing he does wrong. Don’t do anything out of injured pride. Sirach 10: 6
It’s the little annoying things that can drive us up the wall. “Why can’t you ever come the first time I tell you dinner’s ready?” “Do you know you left the laundry room light on—again? It was on all night.” “Why do you always have to leave your dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is RIGHT THERE?” Sometimes we’re just waiting for the other person’s dirty socks to land on the floor next to the hamper for the umpteenth time. Irritations have a way of gaining momentum.
Constantly pointing out annoying behaviors only contributes to the friction–nagging is pretty annoying, too. Besides, people tune us out when we harp on the same thing over and over again. On the other hand, trying to rise above minor irritations doesn’t always work. When we stuff our feelings down, they can fester and build until they finally explode. That leads to hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and maybe guilt—or at least embarrassment—about over-reacting.
So what can we do instead? Sirach offers us a clue when he warns us about pride. What does pride have to do with being annoyed? There’s a sense of superiority in pointing an accusing finger at someone else’s fault—especially a fault we don’t happen to share. It gives our egos the illusion of moral high ground.
How can we be honest about what we’re feeling without judging others? Maybe as we explore our feelings honestly we can follow through by acknowledging our own weaknesses. Maybe something like: Okay, I’m really ticked off that he interrupted me mid-sentence again, but let’s remember I do annoying things, too. How often has he complained that I come home late without calling? And yeah, he put the milk carton back in the fridge with just two drops of milk in it yet again, but who banged his head because I left the cabinet door open? After all, our comfortable habits might just be somebody else’s pet peeves.
Sirach also points our mortality further on in the passage. “We are only dust and ashes; what have we got to be proud of? …Even a king may be alive today and dead tomorrow.” (Sirach 10: 9-10) Life’s too short to dwell on the things that annoy us. Do we really want to squander precious time judging others? Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality and human limitations. Lent is also a good time to turn our attention away from other people’s shortcomings and face our own. As we recognize our need for mercy in our day-to-day living, we also become aware of the gift of mercy God offers us through his Son. God looks at us—warts and all—with eyes of love. When we remember this, it’s easier to look at others with those same eyes of love.
Prayer: Lord, may we forgive as we are forgiven.
Reflection: What habits of yours might be annoying to others? Are you willing to ask God to help you change? What else are you willing to do?
Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.
Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?
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?
What does living in the grace of God look like? It probably means we stop trying so hard to earn God’s love. Grace is a gift, not a salary. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of it but we have it nonetheless. Accepting love and forgiveness that we didn’t earn—that we couldn’t earn—doesn’t mean we don’t pay a price. The price is humility. Not a “shucks, I’m not worth it” or groveling self-loathing, but a healthy recognition that God loves us exactly as we are, warts and all
A spiritual director once told me, “God is crazy in love with you.” How humbling. God knows all about me, including the things I’m not too proud of. And he loves me anyway. It’s too good to be true, but it is. Christ was willing to give his life for little old me and for every one of us—even if we don’t care or don’t even notice. Our indifference or arrogance cant stop his love, although they might stop us from experiencing it.
What does living in the grace of God look like? Here’s a few things that come to mind. Please feel free to add to this list.
- Awareness of God’s grace would keep us humble—a good antidote to judging or looking down on others.
- It’s a good antidote to looking down on ourselves, too. We’re loved by a perfect God! What more do we need?
- We don’t have to prop up our self-worth by tearing others down or showing off.
- We don’t need to pretend we’re better than we are.
- We don’t need to impress anybody, least of all God. We can afford to be honest because that is how God loves us.
- We don’t have to be stingy or self-centered. We can afford to reach out to others in love.
- We don’t have to beat ourselves up over past mistakes and wrongs. God knows all about our past and still loves us. He’s waiting to forgive us when we turn to him.
- No need to count the sins of others to avoid looking at our own.
Living under the grace of God sounds a lot like heaven on earth, and it’s free for the taking. After all, that’s why they call it grace. We don’t have to hoard it. We can afford to share it with others.
Prayer: Lord, your grace truly is amazing.
Reflection: How can living in the grace of God change your day today?
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.
And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. Colossians 2: 15
A victory parade? Crucifixion looked more like defeat. God’s idea of success is very different from ours. What was Jesus’ victory? He accomplished His Father’s will in spite of all the opposition the world could muster.
What looked like weakness actually brought us forgiveness and new life because our debts were nailed with Christ on the cross. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves–free us from the bondage of our wrong-doing and the burden of guilt and same that goes with it.
“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know the source of this quote—if you do, please let me know. I love it because it reminds me to get over myself. Sometimes, success means refusing to continue a pointless argument. Sometimes it means being satisfied that one person got something out of something I wrote instead of worrying about the number of books I sold. Success can also mean letting go of my agenda and listening to someone who needs to talk.
These things don’t always feel like victory, and they may not look like it to most people. That’s okay. Every time I imagine what success looks like to God, I let go of my will and feel more peaceful in accepting things as they are. When that happens (and I wish it happened more often than it does) I can see my pride, self-will, impatience, being led away in Christ’s victory procession.
Prayer: Lord, what does success look like to you in this situation?
Reflection: How might your idea of success change today if you look at things from God’s point of view?