“Freedom is to be like thee, face and heart; to know it, Lord, I must be as thou art.” ~ George MacDonald
Vice may be more widely celebrated than virtue. To be free, we’ve come to believe, is to abandon restraint and quiet character, to embrace what is brash and rude, selfish and crude.
“I don’t care what you say, you aren’t the boss of me,” is our new, yet painfully unoriginal, national motto.
And, what was once considered virtue is now held up as vice:
- Patience has become a sign of weakness–we demand swift retribution and instant results.
- Chastity, the ability to restrain or deny sexual appetite, has become a condition to be snickered at, not admired.
- Charity, the determined desire for the good of all humankind, falters in tribalistic preference–we love and are concerned only for our own.
- Humility seems pathetic and cowardly, ill-suited to moral outrage and image management.
Thomas Merton wrote half a century ago of the political, religious and relational vices we embrace today. He describes one characteristic of “the devil’s moral theology” as…
“…the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another find the truth. On the contrary…the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong.” *
Sound familiar? We have become whiny prisoners of our own shadow self that demands the world bow to our whims.
An unpopular virtue
Only one virtue, unpopular though it may be, will set you free. Only one virtue is a sure sign a person is right with God. What do we call it?
What feels like death, allows us to finally live, as we allow the owner of the blueprints roll up his sleeves, and remodel us into his image. What is that image?
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all he has made” (Psalm 145:8-9).
You will know you are truly free when you can honestly say, “Every day, in my thoughts, words and deeds, I am becoming more gracious, more merciful, less prone to anger, and better known for my faithful, un-self-conscious acts of love for all who cross my path. A new desire grows, the longing to bestow goodness on everyone, without distinction, empowered by God’s deep compassion and concern for every living thing.” **
How are you doing, in becoming the real you? You won’t be transformed by your own wishful thinking. Instead, surrender everything–the good, bad, and the ugly of your willful yet wondrous self–and declare to Jesus, who is virtue personified, “I care only what you say, you are the boss of me.”
By this you will change the world.
Are you taking the time to listen to the only voice that matters?
*Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York: New Directions Books, 1961), 96.
** See also Galatians 5:22-23.
Photograph by Melanie Hunt