I went bungee jumping years ago. It took all of four of the most thrilling, heart-stopping, sanity-questioning seconds of my life. I remembering thinking – and I mean I remember it viscerally, right in my very gut – while preparing for the drop and looking at the ground so very far below me, that I really really wished I’d gone to Confession before. Just in case. I’ve had cause to reflect on that event often since then, usually when I’m feeling particularly low and unworthy.
Death could visit us at any time. Not a happy thought, I know, but bear with me. We know what comes after death: we have to answer to God for what we’ve done with the life He gave us. Being at the end of that bungee cord was the closest I’d knowingly been to death, and the proximity made me very sensitive to the state of my soul. I could have been moments away from what pride, apathy, and false assurance tempt me to believe I can put off indefinitely: the consequences of my choices.
There have been times in my life when I sincerely sought to live according to God’s will – not through holiness on my own part, but because I accepted the strength He provided through the sacraments, through holy friendships, a good spiritual director, and faithful daily prayer. I knew then, so clearly, without doubt, that God loved me and that I could approach Him in confidence. I had no fear beyond the holy fear due the Almighty from His creature.
Then there have been other times, the not so spiritually together times, when I know if I was once more hanging frightfully high above the earth from a rope, I would be wanting to pause the moment in order to set things right before I was summoned to meet God face to face. If I were in a cave, like Elijah, and the Lord walked by, I would have to turn my face to the rock so He would not see my shame.
How is it possible that God can love me then, in those times when I am all too aware of how unworthy I am? I can see all the ways I have failed Him; I know how I have misused my life and the gifts He has given me. How dare I approach Him I supplication though I know I need His help then more than ever, or even offer feeble thanks from a very humbled heart?
Scripture is replete with examples of God granting His favour, only to have the recipient stumble and fall – sometimes painfully and dramatically. It sometimes results in kingdoms being torn asunder, or individuals being cursed. But there are other examples, too, of the sinner admitting to his guilt, and turning back to the Lord with contrition and true humility, and so being restored to a full relationship with God once more.
When David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in battle, it seemed he was yet one more of God’s chosen gone wrong. But he repented, and went on to praise God the rest of his days. God had such love for him, that when David’s son Solomon turned his back on the Lord and His commands, it was for David’s sake that God spared Solomon from the harshest punishments.
The lesson I am taking from this is that it isn’t perfection that God is asking of me, but rather a humble and contrite heart. He isn’t asking me to get it right every day, but that I turn back to Him when I stray. And He hasn’t left me to do it on my own either, because He provides the Church and her sacraments – most especially the Eucharist and Confession for the strength and endurance I need.
Just as important is the realization that God’s love for me isn’t conditional. His love is strong and continual. It is important, then, that I not succumb to the doubt that Satan likes to plant that I am capable of losing God’s love. That isn’t possible because God IS love, and He is infinite and eternal, no matter how unworthy I may be.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
And a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
And a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
Should I offer a holocaust, you would not accept it
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
(Ps. 51: 12, 14, 17-19)