I am reluctant to write now. Surely those of you who read what I write have noticed how I love strong words? Extreme words?
Rain weeps, thunder crashes, wind whips, my heart bleeds and breaks and bends and there is beauty singing all around as the sun bursts into flame, the flowers dance, the wind whispers.
I hunger for these radical words, even if they’re a poor substitute for the deeper realities that souls can feel in this world.
There’s a drought for words.
The past years of my life wear a cloak.
My “good deeds” mask my heart-motives. Now in Canada after four years in Congo, I find myself repeatedly asked to sum up those four years in a few sentences. I mention the beautiful people, the Congolese sister I love (Anna!), the discipleship group we led.
Don’t I sound nice?
But there’s more. It’s harder to tell.
I am working through a course called “Sonship” by World Harvest Mission. In one of the lectures, Rose Miller tells the story of an ancient city that was covered in sand over many years. One day a peasant came along, looking for a good place to build his home. He selected a place with a solid foundation and built his house. But the stands started to shift. One morning he woke up and found that his house was built on the top of a 80-foot pillar!
My sands are shifting. Now things I took pride in doing well over these last years in Congo and relationships I thought were sound are coming back to mind. I’m seeing my heart-motives and it’s ugly.
It wrecks me.
Want to know why?
My reaction to seeing sin in myself is to do penance. I didn’t think of naming it that until I read how Jack Miller describes Penance People in his book Repentance; “They are preparationists—that is, sinners who are forever getting ready for grace. They want to make themselves worthy of grace so that God will reach out to them when once this work of preparation is completed….What these people seek from God is enough grace to be strong in themselves…they must intensify their own efforts even as they ask for divine aid. They think things go badly because they have not done enough. They must therefore do more of the same, but do it better and more often.”
How did he know? He describes so perfectly my desire to “do” – to fix with schedules and improvement plans and ideas, yes and even words, what I see wrong in my life.
But now? As I remember my days in Congo, I realize: there are people I have hurt, people who I have de-humanized, torn down, treated with contempt from a heart acting on fear, not faith and a spirit addicted to control….there are people who I have not treated with the dignity that belongs to them. And they stand an ocean away. I can do nothing. I cannot even apologise! I CAN DO NOTHING! Do you know how that feels?
I can’t do anything!
My heart wants to do, do, do!
There is no way I can get myself out of this hole. No way I can “do better next time”. The chapter is closed. There is no going back.
My own righteousness failed me.
My heart fails me.
Is that why words also are failing me these days?
I am so incompetent in myself, that I cannot even be fully broken over my sin and this desire to DO my own righteousness.
And it is Lent.
Again I come back to the cross, and there is Jesus before me.
He is broken.
Completely. His body is broken, his soul is broken, his emotions and his mind. Broken by the weight of my sin. That is real brokenness.
He did what I cannot do, to forgive me for doing my own righteousness.
And at the foot of the cross, I come undone.
Each year the Lenten journey is different, but the same. I wrote this for my blog four years ago, but never posted it. Today, as I pray for peace in Congo, I am reminded that no human will be able to bring that peace we hunger for. We are called earthen vessels. A broken clay pot may seem poetical, but not if you’re trying to get a job done. How does God ever advance His kingdom when He has to work with people like me? I don’t know. But I’m so grateful that He does. I’m so grateful that the blood of Jesus covers my sins, even the ones that hurt the lives of others. It has taken these four years to trust the truth of that forgiveness.