Can you remember the first time you did something bad? A time when a little voice said, “Don’t,” but your hand reached for the forbidden cracker anyway? I have a really hard time with that question–and it probably has something to do with that annoying Bible verse about removing the log from your own eye before helping someone else with their splinter–it’s so much easier to see (and remember) other people’s sins, right? Most of my earliest memories that have to do with being disciplined for being naughty also have to do with feeling misunderstood or feeling justified in my actions. I think I’ve blocked out all the times when I really, truly sinned at an early age! Pictures help. That’ my twin sister, Suzy, and I, at 11 months.
I’ve already written in an earlier post about the time in elementary school when I hit someone at the bus stop with a heavy purse because I thought she was being a little bully. And there was the time at dinner, when I received a small whack from my always gentle Dad for being rude to my grandmother, who was praying for our supper. As I recall the story, we were waiting and waiting for someone to pray, and I finally said (loudly), “Isn’t ANYONE going to PRAY?” WHACK. Grandma was praying, only I swear I didn’t hear her. Really!
Psalm 51 is a passage that is often read at Lent, this season of thoughtfulness regarding our own sin and need for Christ’s salvation. David, the Psalmist, writes that “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This sounds like an overstatement, but anyone who spends time around kids knows that they are not perfectly innocent, even from a very early age. I remember visiting my family in Ohio when our oldest had just turned two, and the next-oldest was about five months younger. This beloved niece, as adorable and precious as a toddler can be, saw my daughter moving toward a certain, cute little chair. Without a word and as smooth as butter, she slid her own little bottom onto that chair so my daughter couldn’t sit there. An accident? No way. Selfish? You betcha. Sin, documented. (And forgiven, immediately!)
I was reminded this week of a really specific list of sins from the Book of Common Prayer. So, in case any of you have just as hard a time recalling any recent sins in your life, just as I completely fail to recall any of my sins from my youth, here are a few:
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
If anyone is interested, I can send you the rest of the list–it goes on, very uncomfortably, talking about material goods, prejudice, uncharitable thoughts toward neighbors, etc. I have to admit that I was not exactly thinking charitable thoughts toward the neighbor who helped himself to a quarter of a tank of my gas the other morning!
When we do realize we sin, what do we do then? On Ash Wednesday at church, we sang a hymn that asked God to teach us to “with you, mourn our sin”–to be more sorry for the wrong we did, the way it hurt others and for the way it separates us from God, than about being caught or about the painful consequences of our actions.
Just this week at school, a first-grader was caught stealing something. It was just a small thing, and I didn’t know for sure she had taken it–I just said that someone had told me that she had done it. She was so plainly guilty, so mortified at being caught, that she simply bowed her head and ran away from me and wouldn’t speak to anyone. Another child, after admitting to hitting someone else on purpose, wasn’t sorry–just furious that now his “whole recess is wasted!” because he had to face the consequences of his actions. A third child, very frustrated that he had lost control of his emotions and had pushed someone, again, pleaded with me to give him another chance. The next day, when he spotted me in the hall, he called out to me: “Mrs. Anderson! I’m making better choices!” The rule about no yelling in the hallway besides the point, he wanted desperately to make sure that our friendly working relationship had not been spoiled by his mistakes.
May we, as we approach Easter, admit our “wickedness since birth” and cry out with this boy and with the Psalmist, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. . .” (Psalm 51:11).
By the way, remember the neighborhood friend I hit with the purse? We made contact through Facebook a few months ago, and all is forgiven. Phew!