tle=”Fancy House” src=”https://www.redletterchristians.org/wp-content/uploads/Fancy-House.jpg” alt=”” width=”255″ height=”160″ />When it comes to making excuses for why I am not living out God’s love the way I really want to be, I’m a real genius. One of my favorites is the “I’m not that good” card. If that one fails, I’ve always got the “I’m not that bad” card in my back pocket. This little number allows me to feel pretty darn good about how I’m not actively purposefully intentionally oppressing those who live in poverty.
“I don’t own and operate a sweat shop.”
“I don’t traffic children.”
“I’ve never personally owned any slaves.”
Really, I could go on all day long with this…
“I’m not that bad” has an even more sinister twin called “I’m not as bad as…” When our family was on vacation, recently, we approached the lovely home of an old childhood friend. There were more SUVs in the driveway than there were licensed drivers in the home. We’d been driving in silence for a few minutes while gawking at the large lovely homes in the surrounding neighborhood. As we slid into the driveway of our friends’ luxurious three-story home, one of my wide-eyed children asked, “Are they rich?”
It was the most beautiful set-up line for a lecture on the perils of affluence I could have ever imagined. I suppose I could have given my kids the lecture while parked in front of our own home, but since we don’t live quite as extravagantly as these friends, it felt much more satisfying to be noticing their particular excesses. Exhaling a dramatic “hmmmm” to quickly organize the lecture in my mind, I was surprised by the words which actually formed on my lips.
After building tension with the dramatic pause, I finally breathed out a reluctant, “We’re rich.”
It was in that moment that I recognized how I’d been fooling myself with that devilish “I’m not as bad as” card I tucked away for a moment just like this. I still got to covet and buy and consume just about everything I felt like since, clearly, I was not as bad as…them.
No matter how glorious our excuses, we do fail. In fact, those of us who have committed ourselves to make an impact in the world should expect failure. When it comes, when we feel the twinge of a missed or a botched opportunity, we have the opportunity to recalibrate and decide whether or not we’re going to do something differently.
Apparently there is a similar rule of thumb in the world of mental health. This is what my therapist is now telling me. When I have a distressing thought, she encourages me to notice it, welcome it and serve it some tea and cookies. Though I think this is crazy and ridiculous, my game plan—namely suffering under the tyranny of the distressing thoughts—hasn’t panned out for me so well. So I’m giving her way a shot.
Noticing those missed opportunities to engage with a world in need and grieving over the ones we’ve screwed up, even though we meant well, are the red flags that wake us up and steer us back toward the Way.
Possibly, seek them.
Kimberlee Ireton Conway, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year explains that the fancy spiritual word for this seeking is a centuries-old Christian practice called the prayer of examen. The examen is simply an opportunity to pay attention to the places where we noticed God’s presence in our day and where we might have missed it. The examen is practiced by individuals at bedtime, by families at the dinner table and by small groups plopped together on comfy couches. Pausing from the momentum of the day, we’re given the gift of noticing both those places where we seized the opportunity to join in God’s mission to love a hurting world and to notice—ouch!—the opportunities we might have missed. What keeps our hearts soft, pliable, healthy and open to what God is about is this kind of honest confession.
Find someone likeminded who shares your commitment to serve as God’s agent in a world in need. For example, if your brother thinks that those who are trapped in poverty are just lazy bums, scratch him off your list right now. Find someone who is also on this living-love-for-the-world path on which you’re traveling. As you share regular time together, notice the places where you seized an opportunity to join Christ’s ministry to a world in need and confess the ones you might have missed. Whether you weirdly start running a sweatshop, purposefully buy cheap convenience food, or squint your eyes shut to the needs of a neighbor, confession is the path God’s provided to help get you back on track.
Margot Starbuck is a communicator who writes and speaks about kingdom living, God’s heart for the poor, body image, edgy love & other fresh ideas. She’s convinced that because God is with us and for us in Jesus Christ, Christians are set free to live love that is for others, especially those who live on the world’s margins. This is kind of Margot’s big thing. Margot lives in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, NC, with her husband, Peter, and their three kids by birth and adoption. At Reality Ministries, she shares life among friends with and without disabilities. A graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Seminary, Margot is ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA.