The Church teaches that God has forgiven my many errors (sins). So, in a sense, I don’t need to worry about forgiveness. Yet, if I am to grow in holiness, deepening my relationship with God (which I believe is the fundamental essential task of the time remaining to me), my growth in humility (at least) requires me to not simply shrug my shoulders about my past. Somehow I need to acknowledge those sins that I most regret — and thus most intend to move away from, recognizing them as serious errors.
I have a long history of gestures and initiatives towards God. Sometimes these were consciously directed towards God (as in my teenage intention to become a Minister, my brief conversion at the end of my Concordia year, my initiative to have us attend Riverside Church, then Union Congregational Church, then Redeemer). Along the way, there were brief initiatives to draw closer to God (as in my 2009 retreat at Gethsemani or my meditations while traveling to Brazil or my occasional visits to St. James, St. Bridget’s or St. Stephen’s in the last few years). But the passing sincerity of these moments is more than offset by the fact that they were passing — my fervor lapsed into nothing. I lacked sustained commitment. I was negligent. Various worldly temptations led me to turn away from what was most important.
A similar pattern played out around spiritual intentions that were not specifically God-directed. There was Zen in the 90’s and again in the last year. Also a brief flirtation with the Baghavad Gita, and I would also include Jungian psychology there too.
There’s a broader dynamic here about wanting to take life seriously, doing so for a more or less short period of time, and then turning away for various “reasons.” I mistrust all such reasons, and believe they were mostly intellectual “covers” for some deeper process. I could concoct a psychological or spiritual analysis of how this process has worked.
But I believe that would be a distraction from the much more important thing that must happen — I need to develop certain core spiritual values (as I began during my AA experience). These include humility and surrender. I need to build on my fascination with Epictetus to realize more fully how this has been a bridge to a metaphysics that is God-centered and that entails the full Christian understanding of sin and redemption. Yet all of this can still collapse if I do not develop a thorough program of practice and habits. I believe that an essential part of this commitment, a realization of humility and surrender, is that I need to find a community to support me. Thus, I am considering joining the Church.
A very broad and pernicious reason for my repeated backsliding has been my prevailing commitment to the “world”. I have long lusted after, acquired and been possessive about things (houses, vehicles, books, and much more). I have often sought sexual titillation and satisfaction as an end in its own right. I have often indulged in escapist mind-suppressing drugs and alcohol. As often as I have sought standards and values grounded in God or other higher dimensions, I have denied the existence of such values. Overall, I have far too often given priority to the material and animal over spiritual and ethical values.
My greatest shame over this inconsistency is reserved for two broad manifestations:
1. The neglect of my pursuit of Truth and God — that is, the greater purpose of my life as a human being, entrusted with this small piece of the godhead, which I have neglected. I have failed to fulfill my highest duty.
2. My specific failure as a parent — In addition to my responsibility for my own soul, I was entrusted with the care of three young souls. I did take quite frequent initiatives to teach them sound principles — thus demonstrating my awareness of the Good. Then, just as often, I abandoned or failed to follow through on these teachings — leaving them to develop without clear standards, vulnerable to our pernicious culture of greed, opportunism and cynicism — and allowed them to indulge their own selfish egos. It is a terrible thing to be a negligent parent out of ignorance, but I deserve to be further condemned as someone who failed knowingly.
I cannot undo the past.
It would also be sinful to transform my regrets into the perverse reward of self-pity.
Instead, I acknowledge the truth of my sins in all their horror. Any pride I might feel about my talents is rightly obliterated by my serial negligence and abuse.
I have not been a good person.
Humility is demanded as a rational response to my understanding of my past.
The knowledge that God continues to give me chances to live a life of virtue, thus demonstrating his forgiveness, inspires me to boundless gratitude.
But it also inspires me to pursue Virtue today and every new day.
Specifically, those same responsibilities are just as real today, though transformed, as they were in the past:
- I still have the opportunity to be a virtuous parent to my adult children
- I still have the opportunity to be a virtuous husband
- I still have the opportunity to be a virtuous grandfather
- I still have the opportunity to set a good example
- I still have the opportunity to treat everyone with respect and kindness
- I still have the opportunity to learn and practice Wisdom, to grow closer to God and to offer boundless gratitude and praise.