Step 4 – A Good Lamp
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Scriptures: Psalm 51:16, 17; James 3:14; Matthew 26:41
“Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Oh how we would prefer that it say, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of `our neighbours,’ or our enemies, even our friends and family! That’s easier. Yes? Every step forward is one taken with a certain amount of kicking and screaming going on…
Why is it so hard to do that searching and fearless moral inventory of our self? Because as the poster says…
“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”
As most of you know, we had our two honourary grandchildren with us for nine days. Most of it was truly delightful, some of it was exhausting, there were a few moments when I … well, I thought of posting a photo on Facebook that I took last summer at Tyrell museum in Drumheller – a photo of a T Rex skull, jaws full of sharp teeth. I thought of labelling it `Grandma Juanita – day seven.’ But I didn’t want to worry their Mommy, so I didn’t post it. But during our time with the girls, there was also an achingly tender moment – a `Step four’ from a six year old.
The younger child was playing with a game on the kitchen floor, but I could hear sobbing from the bedroom. Therein I found the older child, sitting on the bed, knees tucked up to her chin, sobbing away. `Dear heart, what’s wrong?’ I asked. `Sometimes I really don’t like how I treat my sister’, she said. A searching and fearless moral inventory…
I listened to her struggles, and then I held her close and rubbed her back and told her I understood how hard it could be to be a big sister. I also held her close because I didn’t want her to see me getting teary-eyed. Making a fearless inventory of our faults takes a great deal of courage, and it usually breaks our hearts, and we need to know we are deeply loved when we do it.
What many of us have been told, in so many subtle and not so subtle ways is that there is something wrong with us, and if we’ve done something `bad’ then we are unlovable, unforgivable, unworthy… And that is too horrifying to deal with.
Richard Rohr says, “Those who were raised in highly moral families, or with a strict religious upbringing, will usually recoil at Step 4. They are so tired of judging themselves – and the judgmentalism toward others that comes with it – that they tend to resist any `searching and fearless moral inventory’. p. 30
Even the word `inventory’ suggests we may have made more than one mistake, or situation of bad judgement, manipulative behaviour, sin of omission or commission. We get stuck theologically. I find myself rewriting certain verses of hymns because I don’t think the theology of them helps us to have a healthy relationship with God.
We get psychologically/developmentally stuck as well. At some level, no matter what age we are, we get stuck in the mind of a young child, at that age when you think everything in the universe revolves around you, so naturally you make things happen, for good or for ill. A couple years ago, I accompanied my friend to take the ashes of her husband, to the middle of his favourite lake. Their little girl wanted to come in the boat, but absolutely refused to wear a life jacket. We wouldn’t take her if she wasn’t wearing one.
It was a stalemate. A great and terrible tantrum ensued. The mother was infinitely more patient than I, as I sat outside the motorhome awaiting a decision. Finally, the little girl cried out, “I shouldn’t have argued with Daddy that day.” She thought she had caused his death, by her behaviour. She would have unconsciously judged herself for the rest of her life, had her Mom not waited out the tantrum to hear the pain beneath it, and reassure her that she was in no way responsible for her father’s death. When we carry such wounds, how can we dare, or even know to examine them?
I saw a poster once of a cat (Garfield?) hanging by his claws on a screen door. The caption read: “Everything I ever let go of had claw marks all over it.” We do hang on to stuff, don’t we? We hang on to past hurts, old regrets, self-destructive habits, insults, embarrassments, suspicions, and broken dreams. Whether we make an inventory of the wrongs done to us, or the wrong we’ve done, we drag it around like an old blanket in serious need of washing. Take an inventory of it? Scary stuff!
But the inventory isn’t so we can realize how depraved we are. It’s to help us grow in compassion. Rohr says, “None of us need or expect perfect people around us, but we do want people who can be up front and honest about their mistakes and limitations, and hopefully grow from them. “
In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and the praying sinner and the Pharisee (Luke 18) , the one who did wrong ends up being right – simply because he is honest about it. Again from Rohr, “how have we been able to miss that important point? I expect it’s because the ego wants to think well of itself, and deny any shadow material. Only the soul knows that we grow best in the shadowlands… Your shadow self is not your evil self. It is just that part of you that you do not want to see, your unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture, and choice… (it) is what allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil or cruel.”
The lesson Jesus taught `back in the disciple days’ begins to bear fruit. Jesus preceded modern depth psychology and Step 4 by two thousand years, when he says, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s/sister’s eye and never notice the plank/log in your own? … Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. (Matt. 7:4-5)
“The game is over once we see clearly because evil succeeds only by disguising itself as good, necessary, or helpful. No one consciously does evil, Rohr suggests. The very fact that anyone can do stupid, cruel and destructive things shows they are at that moment unconscious and unaware.”
Rohr may have a little higher opinion of human nature than I do, on this point. Listening to Parker Palmer on CBC Tapestry on Thursday, he spoke about the danger of leadership that doesn’t need to have a plan to fix anything, but just needs a scapegoat, and a promise to get rid of the scapegoat. We know from history, the terrible and irreversible misery this can cause.
How then can we take that honest look at ourselves and our actions with benevolent detachment; or better yet, with compassion? Music helps… (I know you may not be surprised to hear this from me!)
About 40 years ago, there was TV show called The Waltons, about a mountain family from the 1930’s. There was a very self-righteous young minister who came to town one day, and of course was telling everyone else how they worshipped the wrong way, and he was basically being a pain in the butt. Grandpa Walton devised a plan. He took him to visit two elderly spinster sisters, and they gave him some cookies and a glass of juice – their special “Recipe.“ Well, the holier-than-thou preacher got very drunk and proceeded to make a royal fool of himself.
The next day, as well as being hung-over, he was contrite, and broken-spirited, as the townsfolk gathered, glaring, and gloating over the failure of this self-righteous pup. It would have ended that way – him broken and ashamed, perhaps never to continue in the ministry he was so passionate about, and the townspeople now the self-righteous ones. But Grandpa Walton, from the back of the crowd, aware of his own complicity in what happened, begins to sing… Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy love was shown to me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come… One by one, the others joined in. Forgiveness was given and received, and everyone realized they had their own inventory to do. May God’s grace be our companion as we look at our own inventory this week. Amen.