Fix ourselves first

by Frank Muller

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Ok, confession time. One of the biggest struggles I face in my own walk is seeing so clearly the defects in others. In pride I can so quickly judge others harshly in either thought, word or action. I take it as a matter of assumption that many of us struggle with the same pride or perhaps it is my own conscience that wants to think so.

Just turn on the TV or log into Twitter and one sees images of people pointing fingers at one another seemingly all the time. Why do we do this?

I think there may be two tracks of motivation. The first track is that in fact we do see great evil or sin in others and feel completely justified in calling it out. This is crystal clear when we see mass shootings, war crimes, genocide, drunken driving and all the assorted depravities of people. This “righteous” anger seems justified and from this level we feel and perhaps we are rightfully motivated to express our indignation.

The other parallel track of motivation is that we seek to showcase someone else’s evil because it takes the spotlight off of our own. Implicit in the condemnation of one person is the tacit positioning of ourselves as morally superior to other people’s sins and thus we are less “evil” than these other’s and therefore we are in a position to judge the other. That is like saying, “I steal” but at least I am not a “murderer”. The problem is, we do not make the former confession, we just make the latter condemnation and therein may lay part of the rub.

It is these two parallel tracks of motivation that form the conundrum and the paradox. At the heart of penetrating this mystery lies the vice of pride and it is here we may need to now turn our careful consideration.

The first step in confronting pride is humility. Humility is the actual knowing of oneself. If we are in fact brutally honest with ourselves and examine all of our thoughts and feelings and actions, we come to see how pervasive our own selfishness is. That is, we deeply desire to be loved but we also know we are deeply flawed.

Let us also consider the false form of humility which allows us to feign gratitude for strengths in front of others but inwardly revel in the adulation. We are not so much as grateful but merely making the appearances of gratitude which feed our pride.

Therefore, what we truly desire is a love for us personally that accepts every weakness, every imperfection, every sin, every selfish action we take without any consequences accruing to ourselves. Our deepest desire is to be loved selflessly by others whilst retaining our own hidden selfishness. Arguments and anger ensue because neither party can actually love selflessly like this and thus the game of thrones begins whereby, we all commit evil but justify those actions by saying our evil is less than theirs.

The challenge with this desire in a world of rational actors is that no one else will take that deal because the trade is not equal, in fact it is certainly unequal. For someone to accept all of our sins means in the final analysis that they themselves must be sinless because it is only one who is Truly free from sin that can love the selfish selflessly.

That is a pretty tough person to find. In fact, in our experience with every person we have ever met we inevitably come face to face with their defects just as they come face to face with ours. However, pride is relentless, and the search and masquerade continue.

At the heart of this search means that we begin to create images of ourselves that are appealing to others. These images bear the grain of truth but only the positive or accentuated side of it. At the physical level we will seek money, power, position, make up and beauty products, sun tans, muscle building, nice clothes and on and on…. This process of “image” building is in fact open and displayed to all which is so interestingly ironic.

However, that “image” is not Truth, but it is a controlled presentation of what we want to present to the world and that is certainly not presenting the whole Truth. This internal fight between what we think and know about ourselves and what we present to the world is the pangs of our conscience and it tears at us all up inside. This duality of life where our inner true self is always at odds with our outer presentation of self.

There becomes a latent anger internally over our own hypocrisy and eventually that anger boils over to self-harm or harm to others and now we are back to judging others and not ourselves. Deep down we all want and need Mercy but when we do not receive that selfless love for our selfish ways then anger becomes the norm for our culture.

The way past this conundrum is precisely related to the paradox. The paradox is we all need a love for us that bears and forgives all but also calls on us to change. That small change each day is the lifetime process of becoming more selfless, that is we become conformed more closely to the image of that which we desire the most. That change is the daily down payment towards evening the trade in some small way recognizing that is the best we can do.

This means that we learn to accept being loved ourselves and we reciprocate by learning to be more patient and kinder to others (even when they are wrong). We learn to understand that a selfless love knows precisely what evil is and never condones that evil, but rather calls us out of it.

Love is not a patsy. Love is patient and kind but make no mistake, in the end Love is also judgement. Love seeks to conform the other to itself for eternity just as anger and hate seeks to conform the other to itself for eternity. That conforming is possible to the extent that we accept Love (or hate) and that we work towards becoming more like that Love (hate) ourselves. It becomes a choice of the Will to forgive and have Mercy for others because we are honest with ourselves that we need Mercy too.

The best potential spouse is the one who deeply understands all of our warts (and we theirs) but is willing to be patient with us for life if we are patient with them as together, we work to become one in selfless Love. This is how the conundrum is solved. This is how we can begin to change. When one decides to take advantage of the others’ selflessness for selfish gain it is true, that it appears in the short run that the selfish win. What is most certainly True is that over a lifetime, the selfish lose as they will be inevitably denied Mercy at the moment, they need it the most.

It starts each day with a resolution to improve upon a defect in our inner life. That defect is shared with our Lover, and they help us to be better today in that area. So, when we see anger towards the President or a politician, when we see the perpetrator of a mass shooting, when we see our neighbors gossiping about others, when our spouse does something deeply annoying, please take the first step to pray for them and the person disparaged and to beg for mercy for all of our shortcomings most notably our own.

When we refuse to become angry with people and instead become angry only with the sin, we free ourselves to be loved and to love. It is in this way that we never condemn any sinner, but we can always comfortably call a sin a sin. People change when they know they are not personally condemned but that the sin is kept separate. Yes, it may take many, many years for someone to come to see the Truth of sin and what it actually is. They make that journey through friends who love them selflessly.

No one, most especially me is perfect at this. The task is great. However, each day is a chance to begin again and to work to make right the wrong we have done. Each day is an opportunity to bite our tongue when we become annoyed, if a sin must be discussed it is done so without the other persons’ name being used.

A life lived this way will stand in stark contrast with the world. Those who believe in this Love are simply kinder, gentler, more peaceful but make no mistake they are powerfully strong in what matters. Let us who believe these things take the first step in extending mercy and try going forward today not judging or condemning anyone.

If we want to change the world, we must fix ourselves first and daily.

May Peace be with us all.

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