I heard it again and again in my childhood and beyond: “You are so sensitive!” And they didn’t mean it in a good way, like caring about animals or knowing without being told that a friend is having a bad day. They meant I was sensitive on my own behalf; I hated being criticized. And they were right. For that reason, in all the ways that matter to me or that other people are likely to comment on, I try to follow the advice of that old job manual: “Don’t be yourself. Be someone slightly better than yourself.”
The problem is, this is called being a hypocrite. And that was one of my biggest fears about writing a blog on spiritual subjects. I was scared to death I’d put forward some nicey-nice version of myself that bore no resemblance to the real thing, gilding my little halo while writing about how other people could improve themselves and become like me.
So, just to make sure I’m keeping it real, I think it’s time for a few confessions. Don’t worry, I’m not going to share every sin I commit on this blog. There is definitely such a thing as TMI, as we say in my generation. But, for the sake of my conscience, I need to put one of my past posts in context.
Remember how I was talking about how hard, and how necessary, I feel it is to love your enemies in my post about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Remember how I was like, “We [choose not to actively love our enemies]… when a certain tone of contempt creeps in when we say perfectly normal descriptive words like ‘Republicans'”?
Well, by “we” I apparently meant “me.”
Recently I learned that one of my partner’s friends and classmates is a Republican, and I jumped like I’d touched a red hot poker. You see, I was remembering a conversation I’d had with this person earlier that month, one of the first times I’d met her. We’d been having a conversation with a third party about where we grew up, and said third party said she’d grown up in a liberal family in a rather Republican part of California.
And, although I could have easily changed the subject, I chimed right in. “I grew up in Republican Land too,” I informed this person I hardly knew. “Arizona. Of course, back in the day they didn’t make as many scary laws as they do now. They were just stay-out-of-my-business, why-should-my-tax-dollars-pay-for-your-schools kind of Republicans.”
She smiled politely, said nothing, and let me change the subject.
You know what’s particularly dumb about this? I don’t even like labels when it comes to politics. Many’s the time I have lamented how partisan and judgmental the American two-party system is, said we need to be able to have meaningful conversations instead of just throwing insults at each other. And I do believe that. But apparently I’m not immune to being insulting myself.
As St. Paul said, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). I hope I can be that honest with myself, and that, like Paul, I can avoid both defensiveness and discouragement and merely throw myself on the mercy of Jesus, the one who understands me, forgives me seventy times seven times, and promises to help me change.
One of my favorite Christian authors, , calls himself on a “recovering sinner” on some of his book covers. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with the phrase, since it seems to imply that I might someday be all the way recovered from sinning. While I have faith that God will continue to work on restoring me to my truest and best self, I consider it a certainty that I’ll continue to make mistakes as long as I’m alive. But I definitely want to be a recovering hypocrite. I don’t want to be that person I’ve been, the one who hides her mistakes and doesn’t want people to know who she really is.
So, same time next week for more of my moral inventory… may it be searching, and may it be fearless!