(Posted February 26, 2016)
In the book of Proverbs, a writing of wisdom for everyday living, verse 3:27 has this to say: “Never pass by a man in need, for you may be the Hand of God to him.”
Isn’t this the very essence of what we call mercy, in this Lenten season of reflecting on the people and situations that demand of us a stirring to be the face of compassion? Yet oddly enough our human foibles often make it easier for us to forgive and lift up virtually every other human being around us, EXCEPT for ourselves.
We are notoriously hard on ourselves. We secretly nit-pick every single way we have failed – failed our families, failed our aspirations, failed to use the talents and opportunities that God has sent our way, failed who we ideally think we should be as a human being. We self-nit-pick in a way that is quite unforgiving. And these failures we hide in the deep recesses of our hearts, so that no one else will ever realize what awful, undeserving people we are. Sometimes we awaken in the middle of the night agonizing about the things we’ve left undone. Or the ones we’ve done.
There’s a big problem in that. Left unchecked, this inability to forgive ourselves tells us that we are unworthy of a life different from the one we’re living, so we don’t reach out for it. The unforgiven self is the one most likely not to attempt to change, because after all, we’ve failed miserably in the past and probably will in the future, right?
Wrong. The only way you can fail again is not to forgive yourself FIRST, and never embrace the risk of change.
We’ve used the saying all this month that “Mercy begins with ME.” That’s true, especially when it comes to yourself. It’s true because, unless you let go of the negative things that are holding you back, you cannot move forward. Or, for that matter, be really helpful to others.
I need you to remember what was said to you on Ash Wednesday when you came to me for that dark smudge of faith. I said to you, “The past has died. The new has come.” That statement was an absolution for each of us for what has gone before. But it works, only if you believe it. Failure to forgive ourselves can have such dire consequences. Left to extremes, the unforgiven self is often the soul I find most often inside people who numb themselves with alcohol and drugs, because the anxiety produced by not forgiving ourselves for not being perfect is too much pain to bear.
This Sunday we hear a strange parable from Jesus, about a fig tree that hasn’t borne any fruit. The orchard owner wants the little fig uprooted and thrown in the fire. But the Gardener suggests otherwise. (Wasn’t it Jesus who was mistaken for a gardener?) The Gardener instead says to the Owner, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and feed it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Even Jesus forgives our lack of fruiting. But he does not think the effort to save us is “fruitless.” There will be consequences if we do not try, but God himself is more merciful to us than we are to ourselves. Jesus is, indeed, the Gardener of souls, and our Mercy. - Pastor Pat Kriss