Summary: Deepseated shame and objective guilt arise from a self-serving spirit, but the Cross delivers us from both and frees us to live out of gratitude.
Mark it down. Memorize this. Engrave it somewhere. It is an ironclad rule. This will always happen: when it is the least convenient for you to respond, someone will want you to respond. When it is nearly impossible for you to get up and do what someone wants you to do, that is the very moment when they will want you the most. When you just can’t go, that’s when they want you to go. When you just can’t handle it, that’s when they ask you to take it on. When your agenda is full, that’s when they ask you to do one more job. When your calendar is jammed, that’s when somebody does something that blows your time away. Yesterday afternoon, when there was already plenty to do, more than enough, I waited an hour and a half for a key person to show up for a wedding rehearsal. I didn’t have that kind of time; that’s why he took it away from me. When it is the least convenient for you to respond, someone will want you to respond.
Here I am, helping in the kitchen. I get to do the really fun jobs, like peel onions. Married nearly forty years, and I am still a pushover for teary hazel eyes and that British accent, “I cahn’t, I just cahn’t.” So I am peeling onions, my eyes are streaming with tears. I want this to be over. And the phone rings. It rings loudly, over and over. I’ve got to get to the phone. I must answer it. Why?
Oh, you know why. It might be something important. Who knows, Bore or Gush might want me in the next cabinet? Who knows, the pulpit committee of Mega Baptist Church might be calling? Who knows, Ed McMahon said I may have already won a million dollars? Who knows? I must respond.
So with my eyes streaming with tears, I rush to the phone. And in the process I stumble on something I couldn’t see. I stumble, I step on the dog’s foot, I bang my shin against the table leg, and I knock over a jar of sticky syrup. What a mess I’ve made! But I got to the phone.
And when I have told the Visa woman for the five hundred and twenty-ninth time that I do not want another credit card, thank you very much, because mine gives to missions and hers does not, I hang up the phone and survey the damage. It looks a lot like life itself, this mess.
My eyes are streaming with tears, over nothing really. An onion. But it made me weep. And the floor underfoot is a horrible mixture of spilled syrup, splintered table leg, hair from the dog’s leg, and blood from my leg – all from one little stumble. And all from reaching out with my grasping hands to get something. Get, get, get. In my eagerness to have and to hold, look what I’ve done.
I say it looks a lot like life, my life, your life – our eyes stream with tears, our feet stumble, because our hands grasp and do not give. Because our hands want to have and not to share. Because our hands hold on rather than let go. Teary eyes, stumbling feet, and hands.
The psalmist must have had days like that. Many such days. He was brought low, he says. He felt awful. He speaks about distress and anguish. And it was about more than one little phone call interruption, about more than a tough day here and there. It was about a whole pattern of life. For the psalmist, it was about certain habits he had fallen into. Habits like being suspicious of everybody else – did you catch it when he told you that he got so upset he thought everybody else was a liar? That’s pretty serious. Or habits like feeling sorry for himself? He admits that he used to sit around and hold pity parties and say, “I am greatly, greatly afflicted.” This man had some problems. Or shall I say this man gave himself some problems. He spent too much time sitting around in the blame game. Negative stuff.