I confess I have left the whole Lenten self-examination thing a bit late this year but finally this week I’ve dragged my soul in front of a 360 degree mirror and it wasn’t a pretty sight: bashed, bruised and attempting to sulk in corner pretty much describes the situation.
A series of demanding circumstances, a few small misunderstandings and a couple of big stresses and you have the ‘perfect storm’ for full on ‘soul shrivelling’.
So what to do?
I’ve spent the last few days committing Ephesians 4: 31 to 5:2 to memory and I am almost there.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Learning something by heart is very powerful. In that first sentence there are six, yes SIX, different things that can shrivel your soul: bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice. Learn that lot off by heart and you really think about what the words mean.
‘Wrangling’ is my favourite: it’s such a pithy description of all the manoeuvring, ‘spinning’, manipulating we all do to avoid situations instead of (forgive the gender specific term) ‘manning up’ and getting on with it, whatever ‘it’ might be: confronting/apologising and moving on.
John Ortberg in his brilliant book The Me I want to Be has an acronym for sin: RAGS
It stands for all the things we mean when we say the phrase ‘forgive us our sins’ and it brilliantly describes the state that all those things leave us in: rags.
R – Resentment
A – Anxiety
G – Greed
S – Superiority
(Ha! If you thought you were doing okay on the first three, then last one certainly applies!)
The more I’ve thought about this list the more comprehensive I’ve realised it is. It pretty much covers every vice, everything we do wrong relates back to one of these attitudes.
“No-one really understands how hard I work” = superiority.
”Why doesn’t so and so do such and such” = resentment
“I really deserve… a break/a better deal…” = greed/resentment (so closely related to that most dangerous of all thoughts ‘God owes me’. God owes no one anything, we owe him gratitude for every breath we take).
“Nobody’s looking out for me” = worry
“How dare he/she/they….” = anger
Now you ARE allowed to be angry. In fact the NRSV almost makes it sound like a command
‘Be angry’ (yes really!)
but it quickly follows it up with ‘but in your anger do not sin’ which is a kind of spiritual health warning: ‘anger can be bad for your soul’. So be angry (let’s face it, you can’t help it) but listen to your anger, ask yourself what you are angry about, learn from your reactions and over-reactions and, whatever you do, don’t let anger settle into the bitterness that will shrivel your soul.
So I’ve been taking off my RAGS in prayer, in worship and in appropriate acts of restoration and today is Easter Sunday. God gives me his RICHES. I am robed in forgiveness, I can ‘live in love’ and I am a beloved child.
More than enough reasons to ring out the ‘Hallelujahs’. Happy Easter everyone.