Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Patience with One's Own Humanity

I've had a life-long struggle with separating, in my mind, what is human from what is sinful.

My religious formation growing up emphasized that "all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), that all persons were made totally depraved by the sin of Adam, and that Christ's righteousness imputed to us is everything we must hope for. In and of ourselves, we are sinful, unclean, and worthy of condemnation.

The theological corrective is that the image of God in us was broken and damaged, but not destroyed. When God created the world, He said it was good, and when He created human beings, He said it was very good. Grace does not only cover us; it really does purify what was broken and damaged, and elevates our nature, and infuses God's very life into us. Sanctity really is a possibility in this life for human beings, and our our willingness to cooperate with grace is a significant factor there.

The theology is indeed dreadfully important, but when you live life, the theology has to get practical.

And when I read this quote this morning, it all got practical.

"Because the Lord wills to reveal His power in our weakness, growth in contemplative prayer requires great patience with one's own humanity, a patience that comes not from surmounting one's frailties, but rather in offering those to God in love. This means that mood swings, fluctuations in pious affections, boredom and even struggles with distractions do not ultimately define our prayer, if through it all we never lose trust in God"
See, I have frailties. Another word for that is needs. I am incomplete. I feel my humanity, my needs, my vulnerabilities, my drives, my desires. And somehow I used to think that I would serve God best by killing these off. I've written a few posts about times that I went for really long without water or food, not on purpose, but because I was too timid to tell anyone that I was thirsty or hungry. I was too afraid of my need putting someone out. I saw my humanity as a nasty bother not just to myself but to the entire universe.

My son as a toddler started pointing me to liberation from that. He would feel a need and immediately start insisting it be met. I remember one night blurting out "I wish I felt like I could just demand my needs to be met like that!" And slowly, I began to realize that this is part of what it means to have a heart of a child. To freely admit needs and seek to have them met.

Sometimes we have needs that are more complicated than a glass of water. Sometimes we have frailties we don't really know how to handle. Having patience with them is part humility to recognize the need, part trust to know God cares and is powerful, and part detachment from the urgency of having it all resolved NOW. It is about accepting that I am a work in progress, and that since I did not make me to begin with, it is ok that I can't see how it will all turn out just yet. Just because two notes clash doesn't mean they don't both belong in the song.

So I don't like it when people use the term "human" as a synonym for sinful, messed up, wrong. It should be a synonym for weak, but with potential to be filled with grace; incomplete, but able to be raised to sonship. To be human is to be one in whom God wills to reveal His great power.


Christine Hickey said...

Wonderful post, Marie. I have no patience for myself, in fact I get angry with myself, letting me know what a failure I am...thinking, what makes you think that you can ever be pleasing to God? Yes, it gets that bad. Obviously this is not the tender voice of Jesus that brings these thoughts to mind. I grew up believing I was just a pile of dung, covered by the pure, white snow of Jesus' righteousness (I think that was Luther?) but it was my mom's regard of me too. I tried so hard to be good, too!

Anyway...having converted to the Catholic Church in 2008, I am still struggling with this kind of "knee jerk" reaction to my weaknesses. Only now, as I pray in the presence of God, am I hearing the loving, tender, patient, "still small voice" of God, and I am slowly realizing the truth of how He sees me...amazing grace! Your post has has further supported my understanding of the transforming love of the One who is within me. God bless!

Marie said...

Yes, Luther's image of the Christian as a dung heap covered by snow has played havoc in my life for decades. If you think deeply about it and really deeply take that as your identity, it can't but be a huge problem. Yet I know Lutherans who never struggled with this thinking.

I have often said that for the first many, many years as a Catholic, every time I went to confession I felt that I had to confess that I exist. "I'm bad; I'm sorry!" And I didn't really know or think to purposely lay out this struggle before the Lord and ask for help. It's such a Catch-22. But I think that's the key. To keep saying "Lord, I believe you love ME and your grace transforms me. Please heal my thinking and help me to know this by experience." I guess that's what's meant by an act of faith.

Christine Hickey said...

Thank you, Marie. How often I must pray, 'Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.'I am deeply infected with this lie. My only hope is in the Lord who is the Great Physician. I will pray as you suggest.

bill bannon said...

Sirach 10:28 will help. I even feel some saints of the distant past would have been better off knowing this passage:

My son, with humility have self-esteem;
and prize yourself as you deserve.

Christine Hickey said...

Hello Bill,

Thank you for this scripture! It is of help...I will meditate on it. I have had the Lord speak to my the past when I felt completely worthless. He said, "You are of great worth to me.". I had been in tears because I could not "measure up" to other's expectations of me and was being criticized for it and feeling guilty as a result. I think the translation of "self-esteem" is problematic in our culture though, where it is used as a secular term to engender a sense of pride absent of humility. Our Lord was certainly not "esteemed" by the world during his time on earth. But I have read where some "saints of distant past", have confessed their "nothingness" or even more negative use of words to describe themselves and I have had difficulty interpreting their meaning. I think if the Lord sees me of "great worth", then the opinions of others who judge me in worldly terms should not concern me. The key is "humility"...remembering that I am but a creature, and God is God!

bill bannon said...

I had 16 years of good Catholic school but this positive side that follows also was not mentioned.:

Zephaniah 3:17New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you,

bill bannon said...

And keep somewhere Isaiah 62:4...same Bible..

No more shall you be called “Forsaken,” nor your land called “Desolate,” But you shall be called “My Delight is in her,” and your land “Espoused.” For the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be espoused.

THE LORD DELIGHTS IN YOU...put that on the frig with a sticky notr.