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 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?
I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3
It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.
Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.
At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.
If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.
Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?
But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it? Isaiah 10: 13; 15a
The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.
We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.
We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up, or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.
An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.
Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.
Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?
Jesus didn’t want to suffer but he was willing to suffer. Even though he knew suffering and death waited for him in Jerusalem, he’d set his face like flint and headed there. His prayer in Gethsemane expresses the tension between his desire and his commitment to follow his Father’s will, all for love of us. In his beautiful, heart-felt cry Jesus asked his Father to take the suffering away. That was what Jesus wanted, but he deferred to his Father’s will.
We can learn from this. We don’t have to pretend we don’t have wants or feelings. It’s more than okay, it’s essential that we’re honest with God about what we truly want. That doesn’t mean demanding that he do things our way. We can lay our wants at God’s feet and leave the choice up to him. We can exercise our free will by choosing to give our will back to God. We hold our faith hostage if we insist God do things the way we think he should. Insisting on our way may seem like freedom, but it’s not. Freedom is the choice to act without being bullied by our feelings.
Jesus’ prayer is a beautiful balance of honesty and surrender, of requesting and accepting instead of insisting. We have a choice at every moment: to insist our will be done or to lovingly entrust our will to God’s wise and loving plan. It isn’t easy. It will cost us. But I have to believe it is worth it. I have to believe that God isn’t cruel or abandoning us if pain isn’t taken away on our terms. I have to believe he will give us what we need to get through whatever challenges we face and will somehow bring good out of it. I’ve seen it happen. Besides, if God can bring good out of the crucifixion, he can bring good out of anything.
Prayer: Father, thy will, not mine, be done.
Reflection: Where are your wants flexing their muscles today? Are you willing to surrender them to God’s care?
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?
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?
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?
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?
You know my heart. You have come to me at night; you have examined me completely and found no evil desire in me.
I have always walked in your way and have never strayed from it.
I pray to you, O God, because you answer me; so turn to me and listen to my words.
Reveal your wonderful love and save me; at your side I am safe from my enemies.
Protect me as you would your very eyes; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the attacks of the wicked. Psalm 17: 1; 3; 5-10
David cries out to God for justice, begging God to defeat and punish his enemies. He claims that God, who knows him thoroughly, knows he is innocent.
Like David, I believe God knows my heart and has examined me completely. I’m not so convinced that he has found no evil desire within me. I can’t claim that I ‘never strayed’ from God’s way. When God reveals his wonderful love and saves me—which he has done many times and continues to do—it’s because he is good, not because I am perfect. That shows just how wonderful his love really is.
David recognizes that his enemies are stronger than he is, but not stronger than God. I have plenty of enemies that are stronger than I am, too. Many of them are within me. Take impatience, for example. Much as I’d like to be rid of it, I can’t make myself patient. I’ve tried it on my own many times, and been defeated many times. If I stop trying to tackle it on my own, I can ask God for relief. There’s hope in God’s power, which can do for me what I can’t do for myself, if I’m willing to surrender and trust Him.
Unlike David’s honest prayer, my honest prayer looks more like this: Listen, O Lord, I know I’ve let you down, but I need you. On my own I’m too weak to stand up against the enemies within me. I pray to you because you listen and answer me. It’s your love—certainly not my own strength–that keeps me safe. Thank you, Lord, for knowing my heart and loving me anyway.
How about you? I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflection whatever phrases speak to you today. Here are some questions that might help.
- What enemies are bigger than you today?
- How can God help keep you safe from their attacks?
- How has he answered your prayers in the past and revealed his wonderful love?
- What would your honest prayer look like?