Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If Left to My Own Devices...

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.  As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight....  The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. ... I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I keep the Lord always before me.... You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy.      --  from Psalm 16

This morning, I was looking ahead to Sunday's lectionary readings, preparing for a Bible Study tonight, and read the words above.  The phrase, "I have no good apart from you" matched my thoughts perfectly.  Sometimes it is very clear to me that if left to my own devices, I would be a heap full of vices.  

Two days ago, I had the idea that I should correct another person's misunderstanding about me.  The truth  was at stake.  But, before I followed my inclination, I asked for the prayerful advice of friends.  My intentions on the surface seemed justifiable, but, I have come to realize that my true intentions are sometime concealed, even from me.  And, I searched for answers in a book.  I'm currently reading Thomas Merton's, No Man is An Island.  Unfortunately, I was having a hard time reconciling what I was reading with what I wanted to find.

I was looking for approval, for a sanctioning of my intentions, but I was reading about "self-denial"  and "the common good."  How did this speak to my concerns, I wondered?  I particularly couldn't make sense of these words:  "...perhaps they carry their sincerity to the point of injustice -- being too frank about others and themselves, using the truth to fight the truth, and turning it into an instrument of ridicule in order to make others less loved.  The "truth" that makes another man cheap hides another truth that we should never forget, and which would make him remain always worthy of honor in our sight.  To destroy truth with truth under the pretext of being sincere is a very insincere way of telling a lie."  (pg. 189)  I was too blinded by my sense of "honesty," to understand.

Luckily, one of my friends said, "What good would it do?"  What good would my telling the truth do?  Aah.  This was what I needed to hear:  a clear and simple question.  "What good would it do?"  My answer was immediate:  clarifying this person's misconception about me would have done no good, and possibly a lot of damage.  Not that I would have been hurt, but someone else could have been sidelined.  But, but... What about being honest?

Tired of wrestling with myself, I went to bed for the night.  And woke up early.  (Why do I seem to hear God best in the middle of the night?)  I settled myself in for a long morning, and began reading the lectionary for today.  The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), reminded me of Merton's words on baptism, which I read again.  Baptism comes, for Merton, at that point at which we "yield our souls to the action of God's love".   Merton writes that "once we have the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, the measure of the giving of Christ corresponds to our own desire.  For in teaching us of the indwelling of His Spirit of charity, Jesus always reminds us to ask, in order that we may receive."  (pg178-9)   This I understood.   

For, when I began searching for God's truth, believing in God's compassion, I came to know Jesus and then became aware of the Holy Spirit working in my life.  Believing and knowing, however, must be followed by obedience.  I read, "The more we obey the Spirit, the more we are moved and live as sons of God, and the greater our capacity for being enlightened and strengthened by His inspirations. ...This brings us to another element that determines the measure of our love for God:  self-denial.  We receive as much of the charity of Christ as we are willing to deny ourselves of any other love."  (pg. 180-2)  

And so I understood that I must deny my inclinations.  I could see that my "good" intention to be honest about myself was actually hiding a selfish desire to make myself look good at the expense of another person.  I was in danger of putting self-love above love of neighbor.  Merton's words from yesterday, which I could not decipher before, now made perfect, though regrettable, sense. 

Thank you, Dear God, for protecting me from my worst self.  Thank you for your holy ones:  those who bless me with your wisdom.  I am grateful that I do not have anything worse to regret.  And I am feeling joyfully blessed by your persistent care of me.  Love always, Pam

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