I am one of those people that will genuinely overlook a piece of trash on the floor and not see it for hours. Then when I notice it, I’ll forget to deal with it and it will remain on the ground. But I’ll notice if the books on my desk have been moved or rearranged. If I really look inward, what I focus on externally is what I value internally. Do I care about the trash on the floor? Certainly. But not as much as I care for the books on my desk. It is quite simple, really.
This got me thinking: What else do I overlook?
So I’ve been thinking about that for a few weeks, and most likely overlooking other things in the process. Here are a few honest conclusions:
1.) I overlook the poor by worrying far more about my own finances.
2.) I overlook my own sins while judging others for doing the same thing.
3.) I overlook people for the sake of “ministry.”
4.) I overlook my family for something that is “for their benefit.”
5.) I overlook ways I waste time but want others to carve out time for me.
The short stories Flannery O’Connor have been nurturing my soul lately. In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” O’Connor tells the story of a swindler named Tom Shiftlet who meets Mrs. Crater and her deaf daughter Lucynell while wandering in the countryside. She convinces Mr. Shiftlet to marry her innocent daughter and as a wedding present, Mrs. Crater grants Mr. Shiftlet the keys to the car along with some money for a honeymoon. Driving away on their trip, Lucynell and Tom stop in a restaurant. When Lucynell falls asleep on the counter, Tom sees his opportunity and leaves her there. He leaves with the money Mrs. Crater gave him for their honeymoon and in her dead husband’s car.
After picking up a hitchhiker and having an argument turn south leading to the hitchhiker jumping out of the car, Tom revels in his self-righteousness:
Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him. He raised his arm and let it fall again to his breast. ‘O, Lord,’ he prayed. ‘Break forth and wash the slime from the earth!’
Here is a man who has done a terrible thing, but feels no remorse. Rather, he overlooks his own sin and sees the sins of everyone around him, further expounding on his earlier rants about how bad the world is now.
I’m sure you know where this is going. This reminds me of a story in Luke 18 when a Pharisee and a tax collector both go to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee sees the tax collector and says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). And the tax collector, standing far from the fold, beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (18:13). The Pharisee was not really praying, he was using prayer as a means to puff himself up in front of others. We can easily identify this for what it is.
We love to read stories in the Bible and imagine ourselves as the ones doing what pleases the Lord. I believe this is further evidence that we are often unwilling to admit how broken we actually are. I think we are often completely blind to the state of our spiritual health. Or decidedly blind, take your pick. The effects of the Fall are all around us and they within us as well. But I would contend we act more like the Pharisee than the tax collector on most occasions. This is the battle that wages within us. There comes a point in time where we must admit that, to borrow O’Connor’s phrase, our slime is what needs washing. And this particular point in times because a continued practice of spiritual discipline. We can overlook it and even ignore it, but when we come to a place of honesty and vulnerability, we see what we are. However, it is far easier to look at others and think of what they must do, what they are doing wrong or what they should have done. When we investigate our own hearts, we see that everything they do, we do the same.
This seems a bit depressing, quite honestly. But I do believe there is a silver lining to this. The more actualized our perception is, the more we see and come to understand even a little more of the depths of grace and mercy. How can we dwell on the grace of God if we do not think we need it? When we see that we need it, it is beautifully mysterious and changes the way we live and forms us to be as God intended. How can we experience the love of God if we truly believe that sinners need it far more than we do? When we live in this place of conviction, of living as one who is loved and redeemed, Christ takes his rightful place as priest and king of our hearts, the Spirit continues His work within us and the Father is glorified.
This is why I think one of the greatest prayers to pray is:
Jesus, have mercy on me.
Jesus, have mercy on me.