Earlier today, I looked around my kitchen with an unusually discerning eye and saw all kinds of crud building up in the corners near the floor; stuff I hadn’t noticed before that seemed alarmingly, disgustingly plain in that moment.
It reminded me of something I’d read just a short while before — an excerpt on sin.
The word sin can conjure so many thoughts, feelings and emotions, oftentimes of the negative variety. Who really wants to talk about sin, after all? Who really wants to read about it? Better just close out of this post right now and leave well enough alone, right? But wait a second. What if reflecting on sin turns out to be freeing instead of condemning?
I believe our Lenten outcome can be more satisfying by taking a look at sin in our lives. Lent is a time of pruning, after all. Considering the sin that holds us captive can help us prune more efficiently. It can help free us from our bondage to its effects, which are not unlike the caked-on grime in the corners of our kitchen floors. We can’t truly rid ourselves of that grime until we stoop down low, take a good hard look and acknowledge its ugly existence.
Here’s a bit from the pertinent section of the abovementioned book (Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & Me, p. 113-4). I think you might be surprised by what Norris says on the subject:
“Religious vocabularly is demanding, and words such as sin and repentance carry so much baggage that even many Christians are reluctant to employ them. In a culture marked by theological illiteracy it is tempting to censor terms that are so often misconstrued and misused. Many people who would not dream of relying on the understanding of literature or the sciences they acquired as children are content to leave their juvenile theological convictions largely unexamined. If they resented religion when they were young, as adults they are perplexed and dismayed by its stubborn persistence in the human race. But religions endure because they concern themselves with our deepest questions about good and evil, about the suffering that life brings to each of us, and about what it means to be fully human in the face of death.
“We are right to distrust the idea of sin as it is often presented, but are foolish indeed if we throw out the living baby with the old church bathwater. The concept of sin does not exist so that people who may need therapy more than theology can be convinced that they are evil and beyond hope. It is meant to encourage people to believe that they are made in the image of God and to act accordingly. Hope is the heart of it, and the ever-present possibility of transformation. The doctrine would not have remained a living tradition for such a long time if it had not been, as the theologian Linda Mercandante describes it in her book Victims and Sinners, ‘a rich, holistic way of conceptualizing the human dilemmma — one that functioned to steady and inform thousands of generations.’ Were I to deny this, and discount the wisdom of my ancestors, I would grow not wise but overconfident in my estimation of myself and in what passes for progress.'”
All this relates to the parenting journey in this way, I believe. Children primarily learn God’s love for them first through experiencing parental love. We are the model for God in their earliest years. What an awesome responsibility. As such, we need to do the necessary pruning so that we might have conviction behind our words as we try to teach our little ones the best ways to live.
The good thing is, even though God is perfect, we aren’t, nor must we be. But the pruning process, which is what Lent is at its essence, can help us be in the best shape possible as we counsel our children through their growing-up years.
Above all, though, we must know that, despite our imperfections, transformation is always possible; not just tomorrow, but in every moment of the day in which we are living.