When I was a teenager, I wished my dad was dead.
Dad had left us multiple times — not for another woman though. A lifetime of trauma (particularly the death of two children) had left him tortured and restless. I didn’t have the capacity to understand that though. I was a wounded teenager who wasn’t interested in his reasons for being absent for so much of my childhood.
Dad left for the last time when I was in eighth grade, and I didn’t hear back from him for three years. He reached out during my sophomore year of high school and tried to rebuild our relationship but I wasn’t really interested. I couldn’t avoid being in contact with him though — we didn’t have caller ID back then, so I would periodically answer the phone when he called and get stuck on the phone with him. I would just take on a dismissive and direspectful tone and end the conversation as quickly as possible.
Even after I went to college and began pursuing my relationship with God more seriously, I resented Dad and I did for years to come. In my mind, I was protecting myself from a guy who was just going to hurt me again. And the thing was: I was right.
Dad kept failing to keep his word. He made insulting comments about the way my mom raised me. And he would talk incessantly when he called, showing little interest when I would try to jump into the conversation he was having with himself.
Although I didn’t cut Dad off, I kept him at a comfortable distance, but that distance gradually shrunk over time. It took a great deal of time, several hard conversations, and Dad’s willingness to show interest in me — to just listen to me — that won me over.
It would be several years before I forgave my dad and even longer before I was willing to ask his forgiveness for the ways I had disrespected him. In retrospect, it’s remarkable how long it took, considering how serious I was about my faith.
I don’t think there was anything wrong with keeping a healthy distance from Dad for a time. But here was the thing: I was often doing more than enforcing good boundaries with him. Oftentimes, hiding behind my desire for a “healthy distance” was contempt, condemnation, and unforgiveness; but I couldn’t see past my legitimate and deceptive justification. My pride protected me from the Holy Spirit’s correction.
The hardest sin to detect isn’t the obvious stuff like shoplifting, lying to your boss, murdering someone, or having an extra-marital affair. It’s the sin that we can justify with a legitimate purpose.
We gossip about someone and call it “venting” or “processing.”
We go into a rage with someone who’s offended us and call it “standing up for myself.”
We refuse to share our faith and call it “preaching the Gospel through my actions, rather than my words.”
We don’t confess our sins to others and say, “It’s OK. I confessed it to God.”
We refuse to forgive in the name of “having good boundaries.”
When we’re using a legitimate purpose to justify our sin, we will usually have no idea that it’s happening. We’ve hid it too well from ourselves; and ultimately, that’s an issue of pride.
In every instance in which we’re sinning and can’t see it because of our pride, count on it: Our sin will involve hurting someone else (actively or passively) and finding a very good reason for doing it. To make matters worse, we can always find someone who’ll sympathize with our disobedience to God after they hear our one-sided story.
As I write this blog post, I can’t help but wonder what sins I’m justifying to myself these days — who am I hurting in the name some legitimate purpose? If I’m walking in pride, then God may be the only one who knows, and obviously I’m not listening to Him. That’s scary.
Perhaps one of the biggest indications of my pride is how antsy I feel about praying the prayer from Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Why not robustly pray that prayer though? Why don’t you join me? What have we really got to lose? Our pride?
In opening up ourselves to God like this, we’re running the risk that the Holy Spirit will show us something about ourselves that we don’t want to see. As much as it may hurt to face our sin, we’ll have an opportunity to share this hopeful declaration from Psalm 32:5: “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
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