In my church we most often confirm people on Easter Sunday. It was the tradition in the area I lived at that time to have a special service on the Tuesday before Easter when members of individual congregations would come to pick up oils blessed by the Bishop to bring back to their individual congregations. I eagerly volunteered and was selected to go and represent our congregation to get the oils. This particular service had a lot of meaning for me and I had been looking forward to actually participating in it for days.
When it came to the big day, I slept through it. I forgot it entirely.
When I realized I missed the service, I felt simultaneously embarrassed for how I had let my congregation down and horribly disappointed that I missed out on what would have been and incredibly meaningful moment. I couldn’t shake the more dreadful feeling that somehow my community was secretly angry.
Confirmation went just fine. My priest loves getting as much oil on your forehead as physics allows. I think a couple drops might have even run off the end of my nose. My little faux pas, as embarrassing as it was, could not keep the event from happening. In fact I was still able to receive the grace that someone else literally brought to me when I had failed.
Upon apologizing to my sponsor for the third or fourth time, she gently pointed out to me that my apologies were becoming insulting, She had to ask if I thought she was so unloving that she would not want forgive me. My inability to accept the forgiveness she offered was hurting both of us. I realized that, actually, it was kinda narcissistic. I couldn’t see her love, only my failure.
What is great about confirmation – the singing, the candles and the oil spill finding its way to your chin – is that it is hard to forget. It is a moment and a memory that reminds us that something happened and it was a big deal. I can’t accidentally un-confirm myself at lunch, or trip and lose my place in the Church. It is a train that is already in motion.
I might be an annoying passenger, even a dangerous one, but it is unlikely that I am going to push the whole thing off the tracks just by being on board. Not every Christian tradition has confirmation. For me it was just a learning moment. My failures don’t shift the whole universe.
However, I do the same thing to God that I did to Sharon. I go to God for love and forgiveness and yet I keep staring down at my own faults. I have spent a fair amount of time in my life begging God to love me, as if it was my idea. I worry so much about my faults that I become unable to receive whatever it is that God has to give. The worst thing about this is that I end up spending all of my emotional energy evaluating myself. It’s a little conceited. The longer I stare aat my own faults, the mire likely it is I will feel disappointed with God.
When I go to God for forgiveness and love, I need to be prepared to receive it.
How will God end up judging me? That is up to God. But if I spend my whole life trying to be certain of that one thing, I am missing the point. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” says Paul in one of his letters,”Stand firm and do not go back to the burden of slavery.” Sounds like good advice.
I may not be sure of how God sees me, but I can be sure-enough. I am sure enough of the loving nature of God I can quit worrying about myself and get on to the business of loving others and bringing them forgiveness.
Once we have gone to God for forgiveness, or to know if we are truly loved, the next right thing to say isn’t , “Really?, Are you sure?” The one reliable response we can give to God is, “Thank you.”
…oh, and maybe, “Now what?”
So pour your oil on us God that we can move on to the good business of taking care of each other.
I love the part “When I go to God for forgiveness and love, I need to be prepared to receive it.”–that hits so close to home for me. It’s always easier for me to give than to receive, but it’s necessary for forgiveness. Thank you for sharing, Doug.
Thanks Rachel. Some lessons are hard learned.
An excellent, thoughtful post. I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff.
I am glad Ted. It is meant to be a gift. So I appreciate to reading. There are y little prayers to whomever wants to read them.
Thank you for this: “My inability to accept the forgiveness she offered was hurting both of us. I realized that, actually, it was kinda narcissistic. I couldn’t see her love, only my failure.”
Failure is my pair of smudgey goggles that I put on every day. Never considered that I could clean them up a bit to see forgiveness a bit more clearly.