(A small talk given during Lent 2012 at FUMC Denton)
The focus of tonight’s gathering – my assigned topic – is ‘Unity with Ourselves.’ When I mentioned that to my husband, he laughed. Isn’t that a given?
Well, for some people, more than others, I think. Less so for me.
I know too well the mess that sits between my ears . . . and more between my head and heart.
I understand too fully Paul’s dilemma, when he says in Romans 7, “I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”
Why does that happen? I’m not sure I can answer for Paul, but I have some sense of the seeds of my own predicament. Growing up, I wanted to be the good little girl – and from the outside, I think most folks would say I was . . . That set me up.
The first lie I can remember telling was to my Sunday school teacher. She asked me if I was a ‘daily Bible reader’ that week. I said, ‘yes.’ I told that lie more than once. Good little girls should be able to say yes to that question, I thought. But, I was not a daily Bible reader most weeks, even though I often managed a few days each week.
Had I been honest – there would have been grace. But I wasn’t looking for grace; I was looking for honor. I was trying to hold the ‘goodness’ within myself. That’s not where goodness dwells.
So I began to create a pseudo self. The good girl, the competent one, the righteous one. It reminds me of an essay by Anne Lamott, who talks of her delight that on Halloween we get to see folks as they are – as rascals and heroes and divas and such – instead of all dressed up in the costumes of everyday life – the suits and uniforms that represent the roles we try to play – the power ties and high heels we wear to divert attention from our shaky knees.
You can feel pretty lonely and impotent, trapped behind that everyday cardboard mask. Yet you are afraid to put it down. People might really see you.
Not that they don’t already see you, of course. I’m really the only one fooled by the game. I’m the only one really surprised – and horrified – that I am not perfect – that the good little girl, herself, is a lie. And so I bear my cardboard shield . . . and all it does is keep me hidden from myself.
Well, that’s not actually all it does. It also robs me of the opportunities for grace and connection. By upholding a false sense of my own self-contained wholeness, it keeps me from finding the wholeness that is real – the one that comes through connection – with Christ and with each other.
Paul saw it, too. He says, from the midst of his quandary,
‘Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me?’ and then he answers,
‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, my Lord.’
There is now no condemnation, but deliverance.
No need to stand on my own, but in the spirit.
So, here, during Lent, I find myself before the mirror of God – a mirror that will reflect only the truth.
Join me here, in your imagination, if you will.
We stand before that mirror, and the mask is gone. It’s pretty scary. When we lift our eyes we can see ourselves as we really are – but what we also see – in a way that washes all the fear aside – is the Christ, whose eyes are fixed upon us and filled with deepest love.
The me – the real me – is the one that Christ so loved. There is no ‘good little girl.’ There is, instead, a woman – full of aches and holes – but also gifted. Gifted in just such a way that my part fits with yours. That my words, through grace, might warm your heart and your heart, through grace, might move your hands toward justice – might hold a child, might feed a hungry one, might speak comfort to a friend, might work against the powers that oppress. That your lips might sing out a song of assurance. And when I see your love lived out, it warms my heart in turn, and moves my hands, my lips, as well, and shores up my resolve. There, before the mirror, there is, at last, a wholeness – a wholeness woven through us all by the love and grace of God.
It makes me smile. I don’t really like high heels anyway. Deep down I know that I’d rather be a part of a whole that pulls me into the bigger vision of God, rather than some small complete package on my own – even if that were possible.
So, as we round this corner of the year, as we live the season of Lent, let us look into that mirror. Let us realize that this season is not so much about eliciting some sense of mortification in ourselves – that was already there, behind our masks. It is, instead, about remembering to drop the mask and let the grace of Christ flood in. It’s about embracing the love that makes us part of the greater whole. It’s about the coming power of the resurrection, which, even as it is already here, is growing stronger in us all.
It’s realizing, with Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ – not even our masks. It’s realizing that the unstoppable power of God is on the rise – and that we are invited to be a part of that whole, wonderful, loving reflection of truth.