Believe it or not, I am not too old to remember myself as a college freshman. I remember that I was very young, very naive, very excited, not always right but always certain. My passion and zest for life combined with a lot of new information and education (at a Bible college) was, on occasion, a recipe for a smidge of “know-it-all-ism”. But I’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs. I revered my professors and consumed books they recommended with fervor and an open spirit, ready to put into practice anything they suggested that sounded reasonable.
In one of my classes, we were assigned a book about how to manage your inner and outer world. Not only how to keep track of and stay in control of your daily schedule, but how what you did each day reflected who you were; what your outsides were saying about your insides. That’s the gist of it. I admired the author and took his suggestions to heart, applying and reflecting on the principles he outlined for a successful Christian life, marked by integrity and discipline.
Think of my shock and disappointment when, not long after we read this book for that class, it came to light that this author had been caught in an extra-marital affair. You can probably imagine the conversation among freshman bible college students who, for all practical purposes, know very little about “real life” yet. We thought we knew an awful lot though, and judged likewise. There was no understanding or compassion for that author and, due to the nature of his book topic, he set himself up to be mocked accordingly: “So, what did his daily planner look like?: 9:00 meeting 10:00 bible reading 11:30 adulterous rendezvous 1:00 lunch etc.?” We just couldn’t wrap our minds around how such duplicitousness was possible.
Fast forward 29 years. I feel like I should make a formal apology. Not because what he did was ok. But because I have seen countless times in my own life where I lived in that same duplicity. Times where I claimed, and even believed, I was walking in the light of God’s Will but was simultaneously living in flat out sin. Sometimes it was in obvious ways. Other times it was in less discernible ways, but still a blatant refusal to live an “inner life that matched my outer”.
Let’s look at it like this: I think that author, who challenged readers to ask themselves, “what’s on my calendar?”, might have been better off asking, “what’s not on my calendar?” And I think we might be better off asking the same. Maybe you can relate to what I am saying better if I use a food analogy. Whether you have dieted or not, you have probably heard that a common suggestion for people trying to lose weight is that they write down everything they eat during the day. Everything. The obvious goal is that this method will prevent you from eating junk because you know you will have to write it down and the shame of having to do that will cause you to eat fruits and vegetables instead. But the fatal flaw of human nature is that we are sneaky little things and we tend to find a loophole. When someone does snarf on a Twinkie or eat a half a bag of chips, they conveniently forget to write that down. Even when meals are planned out ahead of time, which is often suggested, rarely does someone cheating on a diet go back later and fill in the gaps with “2 Cadbury cream eggs, 11 french fries, and a glass of wine.”
The point is, maybe we should train ourselves to look regularly at what’s not on our calendar. What are the subtle ways that, in hindsight, we are undermining how we say we want to live and what we say we believe about how to go about doing so. It’s easy enough to review our day in big picture mode. But that doesn’t always highlight the details–what’s in the background.
Recently, I have been working on Step 10 of a recovery program. The principle is one I think anyone could learn from: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” A quote from a reading on this step points out that “the wise have always known that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.”
We could prevent much suffering and heart-ache for ourselves and those we love if we would make a habit of this daily reading between the lines. What happened in the gaps, when no one was looking?
Perhaps we should look for areas where we have been self-centered, jealous, prideful, judgmental, angry, vindictive, braggadocious, sharp-tongued, arrogant, unforgiving, fearful, short-tempered, or lustful. Any of these, in word or deed, are deadly. They may not kill you immediately, but over time, if they go un-checked, they will lead you to those dark, secret places that you would never write down in your Day-Timer or schedule as a reminder on your mobile device.
Please hear me on this. This is an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself for the sake of growth and guarding your heart. Looking back on your day can help you identify areas that you strayed from what you know to be true of who you are or want to be in your soul of souls, it is not a time set aside for self-flogging.
But hear me on this as well; if you ignore the maintenance of your soul, the rot will come. The axiom of the “slow fade” is tried and true.
That author did not set out to deceive his readers. He simply ignored and avoided a regular review of the subtle seeds of envy (of someone else’s life, or wife), pride (I am above that sort of thing), and lust (meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways). Most people don’t set out to steal money from their employer (it started with fear, selfishness, and greed that went unchecked for too long) or physically harm or kill another person (festering rage and unresolved resentments grew too big for them to contain). You get the idea.