Maybe it was because I was not with you on our last Sunday before moving to our summer schedule. Or maybe it was because this spring seemed particularly busy for so many of us. But for whatever reason, the church program year came to a close without me having a chance to dole out our summer homework.
Last summer, I asked you to reflect on the meaning of Sabbath. The summer before that, I asked you if you would look for the flicker of the Holy as you enjoyed the rest and beauty of summer. (Many gorgeous glimpses of the divine were written about for our Advent devotional book that year).
This summer, I would like to ask you to consider behaving badly.
Now before you think I have gone mad, or before you dart out the door to do whatever you previously dared not do, let me explain. What I am asking is not that you intentionally behave badly, but that you are intentional about examining those times if and when you or someone you love behaves badly. I’d ask that you consider these times not to shame or be ashamed, but instead to consider them as opportunities to practice asking for and giving forgiveness.
As central as forgiveness is to our faith, it can be tricky. I do not know about you, but I find it easier to identify the ways that others around me are behaving badly, particularly those people who are closest to me, than to consider how I may be doing so. It is easier for me to be the one who extends forgiveness for their transgressions even if they themselves do not recognize the need for such forgiveness, than it is to be the one who recognizes for herself how I have behaved badly and my need to be forgiven.
But the rubber hit the road this past week… I behaved badly.
I fumed in fury that one close to me was not attuned to my needs. (Never mind that I never voiced what that need was. Somehow I thought that if that one was really close to me, that one ought to be able to hear the unspoken needs on my heart.)
And when I did not get what I needed, I sunk into self pity, seeing myself as a hapless house elf, enslaved to an uncaring family. (I know it is quite dramatic but I can tell you it was exquisitely heartfelt at the time!)
I was quite well along in this pitiful narrative when the one close to me, the one I had seen as the “transgressor” quite lovingly but emphatically called me out. I had no recourse but to see that if there was bad behavior, it was mine. I felt sheepish, silly and sorrowful. I had behaved badly. All I could say was “I am sorry.”
So why do I tell you this? Because of what comes next. What came next was forgiveness. With a smile and nod and an assurance of love, I was forgiven.
Forgiveness — that which is central to our faith but that which remains an abstraction for so many of us. Forgiveness.
Ours is a God of second chances to quote a Veggie Tales video. Ours is a God that expects not perfection, but relation. Ours is a God that is in a covenanted relationship with us not because we are flawless but because God loves us so much that God is willing to stick with us as we grow in understanding of what it means to be in a covenanted relationship with God. And that means knowing that we will behave badly. Let’s face it, we are human and behaving badly is what we do!
But it is not what we do best. What we do best is to recognize when we have behaved badly and to ask forgiveness. And then to take that forgiveness not as a “get out of jail free card” giving us permission to do whatever we want, but to take that forgiveness into our hearts strengthening our capacity to next time behave with the graciousness and love that is our true desire. And where do we learn this? Where is this forgiveness manifest? Well here’s the rub, it is in our daily ins and outs of living most often with those who know us best and see us most clearly.
So this summer, I ask you to consider behaving badly. Consider those moments when you have done or said or left undone or unsaid that which would have been the right way to do or say or not do or not say. Consider in your own moment of sheepish realization asking for forgiveness and then relish that forgiveness. Swim in it, dive deep into it. Wrap it around you and hold it fast, for it is the echo of that “first forgiveness,” to borrow a sermon title from Sarah Drummond, to which we all are heir.
So that is your assignment if you chose to accept it.
May God’s forgiveness and peace be manifest to you even when, especially when, you behave badly,
P.S. If you feel so moved, please email me ([email protected]) what your experience of “behaving badly” has been and how you or another met that “bad behavior” not with condemnation, shame or loathing, but with love, forgiveness and a new beginning, for that is our good work to do. Your reflections will be gathered into our advent devotional booklet this year.