My last posting was about showing mercy to yourself and it was labeled Part One because I felt what I had to say was too long for one post. My plan was to simply wait a week and post the remainder of it as Part Two. But, things changed. In the last week I have had some very thought provoking and inspiring conversation with a close friend who helped me work through some issues and, as a result of his caring and insight, I felt it necessary to revise what I had previously written. It’s a little longer than I would have liked but I hope it’s worth your time to read it.
It seems this parable of Jesus’ won’t leave me alone. I think that’s probably a sign I need it. The author of Advent’s Little Blue Book, which I referenced in Part One, decided to write in the Lenten season’s Little Black Book on March 11, 2013 more about this parable. This time he took a different approach. He wrote:
“Jesus composed the parable of the prodigal son because of complaints from the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was welcoming sinners and eating with them. Jesus was too easy on sinners, they said. He celebrated with them. His forgiveness was instantaneous; his spirit was warmth and joy. It was okay for the Pharisees and scribes to let sinners reform….but they wanted them to crawl back. Let them learn a lesson. Let them stew for a while. It’s no time for celebration – this is serious, grim business. So Jesus put together a story in which the elder son ends up telling the father that he was too easy on the younger son.”
“To appreciate the impact of Jesus’ parable, I need to see that Jesus is arguing about me. That’s me the Pharisees and scribes are talking about – a sinner who is constantly forgiven and loved by God. Someone is complaining that I have sinned before, and that my repentance is far from perfect. Jesus knows my motives aren’t always perfect. That’s why he told the parable of the Prodigal Son. It describes my relationship with God in real life terms.”
In Part One, I asked whether you have ever done something that has left you shaking your head because, in hindsight, you realized it was either morally or ethically wrong, something that was way out of character for you but you did it anyway even though you knew it was wrong, or something that you have been trying not to do but it just happens without you thinking about it and you don’t yet know how to keep yourself from doing it? In Jason Gray’s song The Golden Boy and the Prodigal, the last verse of which I quoted in Part One, he alludes to this situation this time in the first verse of the song1:
There are two sides to every person, like the two sides of a dime
Heads or tails it depends upon who’s watching at the time.
Though I hate to say it mine is no exception,
One part is the Prodigal, the other part deception.
I love those first two lines. That’s me. For example, if you asked a family member, a friend or two, and a couple co-workers what type of person I am, I’m sure you would get several different opinions. Another example would be that I can keep a promise to someone else but often fail to keep promises to myself. Generally, I’d say the person most people see in me is the Golden Boy, or the deception, and the person I see when I look in the mirror is the Prodigal. And that’s what bothers me.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been trying to lose a little weight. Well, a lot of weight actually but a little is a starting point. I’ve told the people at my main office in Ohio of my intentions, I guess you could say they are pseudo accountability partners for me, and when I eat lunch there I’m usually pretty good about what I eat. But, when I’m away from that office I find it easy to slip-slide and pig out without anyone the wiser. A couple weeks before my baptism into the Church I was at our office in Indiana and I gave a presentation to a group of employees. It was a stressful presentation and it ran up to lunch time. They ordered pizza in for lunch and I ate most of a large pizza on my own before I hit the road. As I was on my way out of town I passed a Dairy Queen and had an immediate urge for a Blizzard. The marquee said the special was mint brownie chip. A small wasn’t good enough so I got a medium sized one, instead. It was darn good, too. Then, about ten miles down the road it hit me what I had just done! It was like I was on auto pilot or something. The stress from the meeting drove the cravings and they drove the overindulgence. Not until I relaxed was I cognizant of what had just taken place. I found a section of road with a wide shoulder, I pulled over and I commenced giving myself a mental beating that was sure to have made the devil proud. I had been praying every day for help and strength to get past the temptations and I promised myself and God that I would do better. Up until this point I had been doing pretty well. But this day I fell, and fell hard. I sat there in my car, consumed with remorse, praying for forgiveness, and I promised again that I would do better. I was making myself “crawl back” just like the Pharisees would have me do. And, unlike I suggested in Part One, I obviously had forgotten everything I had learned about showing mercy to myself.
In my pre-Catholic life things would happen every now and then that I would call coincidence. But, in my new life I find myself looking for those instances and, because of that, they seem to happen much more frequently and with such clarity that I no longer believe them to be coincidences. I believe they happen on purpose and I call them God-moments: those times when God shows Himself in some unexpected way. What would happen next was just one of those moments.
I collected myself and I put the car in drive, waited for the traffic to clear and I pulled back on the road. I turned the car stereo on. Now, I hadn’t listened to the stereo since sometime the previous day and wasn’t even sure what was in the CD player. But, the very first words to come out of the speakers were these2:
Too long have I lived in the shadows of shame
Believing that there was no way I could change
But the one who is making everything new
Doesn’t see me the way that I do
I am not who I was, I am being remade
I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved
I am new
Forgiven beloved, hidden in Christ
Made in the image of the Giver of Life
Righteous and holy, reborn and remade
Accepted and worthy, this is my new name
“The one who is making everything new doesn’t see me the way that I do…”. Now, if that isn’t God talking to me with the very words I needed to hear at the very moment when I needed Him the most, I don’t know what is. God wasn’t making me crawl back and he didn’t give me more time than I needed to stew on it, either. Just like Jesus said. And I didn’t waste any time in finding a place to pull back over and bow my head in prayer to offer my thanks to God for his love.
So, fast forward to this week and I was telling my friend about the stress I’ve been under lately, how I’ve not been living up to the promises I had made to myself, how I’m kicking myself over it, and about the dry spell in God-moments I’d been having. I told him I wasn’t sure what it would feel like to be in such good grace that I would feel an overpowering contentment from God’s love. My friend told me, “God loves you man. God loves the good and bad about you. No one is perfect. God knows that, we are not perfect. We all fall short and all sin…over and over again. But, God is there always to guide us. Look to God to help you, to change you, to better you as a person. God loves you as you are, no matter what. He knows you better than anyone and knows your sins. The instant you confess your sins they are forgiven. From there, let it go. Let God help you work on yourself to be a better you.” It was like my friend had just read that passage in the Little Black Book from March 11, and was paraphrasing it back to me.
So, I took a moment to pray for God to help me feel His love. And it was then that I remembered that instance in the car when those song lyrics played and reassured me of His love. I had forgotten that moment, that feeling. My friend’s caring and faithful counsel brought it back to me. It also reminded me of the need to show mercy to myself. Plus, I hadn’t had a good God-moment in weeks and here I was getting a load of them dumped on me all at once. Again, just what I needed to get me out of my funk. I thank God for His love and the love of good friends.
Good night and God bless.
1. The Golden Boy and the Prodigal, Jason Gray, ©2009 Centricity Music Publishing/ASCAP, from the CD Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue.
2. I Am New, Jason Gray & Joel Hanson, ©2009 Centricity Music Publishing/ASCAP, Where’s Rocky Music/BMI, from the CD Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue.