The older I get and the longer I am a Christian, the more my prayers look something like this: Save me from myself, merciful God. Save me from myself.
David gets it in Psalm 7. He asks God to save him from his enemies – enemies who would, like a lion, tear his soul apart. But then he immediately pivots and says (I’m paraphrasing): “Oh my God. Did I do this?” The goosebumps rise as you hear the horror in his voice. “Is this because of me?”
In Genesis 37, when Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, they don’t engage in this self-reflection, this questioning of their own complicity, their own sin. They’re quite confident calling out the bad guy (not them) and calling down the vengeance (on someone else). And to be fair, their conclusions seem pretty justified. Their family is completely dysfunctional: their mom has always been treated as second best, their dad plays favorites with his children in a destructive and demeaning way, and their brother has explicitly threatened their position as heirs and leaders of the family. They think they have a clear enemy, and they feel justified in destroying him. But they make a terrible mistake.
And then there’s the church in Corinth and their split-allegiances (to Paul, Apollo, etc.). Talk about misidentifying the enemy—these folks desperately need each other, and they can’t get past which pastor is best! They are completely mired in jealousy and pride, but it’s as if the deeper they sink, the more desperately they cling to their way above all other ways, their wisdom above all.
Paul has this to say: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” Which leads me to echo David, again:
Is it me?
Is it my pride that blocks understanding? My resentment that thwarts relationships? My fear that leads to anxiety? My greed that puts others last? Are my motives impure, my impulses faulty, my priorities all wrong?
I wish it wasn’t true, but I’m afraid the answer is yes. It is me. It is always me. Strangely though, there’s something freeing in that confession. It’s like trying so hard to hide a tiny stain on your shirt that you trip and fall in the mud. There it is! You’re dirty. There’s no hiding it anymore. And suddenly your dirtiness doesn’t matter so much because you find out that you are loved anyway. You are forgiven anyway. Your offerings are treasured because their value never depended on how clean you looked, but on how much you are loved.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table, dear Lord, but your nature is always—forever—and ever—to have mercy.
I live in Brookline with my family. I love being a mom, teaching law students, advocating for immigrants, and doing lots and lots of yoga to keep my anxiety at bay.