Have you ever had an experience where you do or say something that you feel is totally against who you are?
A couple of weeks ago I was caught in the seventh level of hell: a child with hand, foot and mouth disease, my wife with a debilitating flu and work being under-staffed due to leave and travel.
The worst of that was the child, who by no fault of her own, had painful blisters on and in her mouth that caused her a world of pain. That meant for a few days she was barely able to get more than half an hour’s sleep at a time. When she was awake, she swung between being an angel and going full cranky, which was not much fun.
With my wife laid low by the flu, but both of us suffering from a lack of sleep and being stressed out, we hit bottom on the Friday night when we had some harsh words for each other. As much as I tried to pull back, my sleep-deprived brain just had no emotional intelligence left in the bank, so I fired off both barrels by reflex.
The next day, I had a horrifying revelation – that’s not the husband I am or want to be. But, nonetheless, it still came out pretty strongly.
I think it’s human nature to look to something or someone else to blame in a situation like that. In my case, I could easily point out that I was tired, stressed and not thinking properly.
But my conscience wasn’t letting me get away with that. I realised that what came out of me showed that I am nowhere as nice, calm and rational as I would like to think I am.
You often see what is inside a cup when it spills, and that fight taught me that as the cup was bumped, some pretty nasty stuff came out of it. It was not loving, and the opposite of love is sin.
So I manned up and apologised to my wife, she apologised too, and it feel like we were put back on track.
It did make me think how we can often lean on excuses not to apologise, or to do so in a backhanded way that puts the responsibility on someone else.
Of course, it’s human nature. If you look back to the Biblical narrative of Adam and Eve, where when God asks Adam if he had eaten the forbidden fruit, his reaction is to blame the woman and, in some sense, God as well.
And it feels like, as a race, that is where humanity has been for thousands of years – looking for the person to blame, so that we don’t feel like we carry the can.
The antidote to that is Jesus, the Son of God who comes into the world to save it. The church I go to has recently been doing a series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and what sticks out to me is that Jesus teaches us that the sin and evil within us run deep. But, at the same time, he paints a picture of what a life of following him looks like too.
The thing is, we can’t just ignore the bad stuff to go after the vision of the Kingdom of God. In fact, we can only pursue Jesus’ vision when we call out the bad that we have done and confront it.
To put a technical term on it, that’s repentance. And it’s powerful stuff.
It strips away all the pretence, all the excuses and says, “here I am, warts and all.” It’s admitting that I’m falling short of who I am – or put in another way, who I was created to be.
The apostle Paul put it pretty vividly in Romans 7:
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
Romans 7:17-24, The Message translation
You get to the end of that and it almost seems that there is a futility to the whole. But then here’s the crescendo:
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Romans 7:25, The Message translation
For me, it is the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my life that actually brings me to the point where I take responsibility for my actions, apologise and seek reconciliation. It’s nothing that somebody guilts me into, it’s not because I fear that God is going to send down a lightning bolt on me, it is realising that I am made for more than this.
Do you know what? It’s so incredibly freeing, because I don’t have to carry around the weight of the gap between who I am and what I was made to be. Because Jesus has already done that, and opened the way to a loving Father.
And that reorients my life to seek out the way of love for others, especially to my family. It is the force that propels me to take responsibility for my actions, to admit when I have done wrong, and seek reconciliation.
Now that is who I want to be.