Guest post from Glen…
Tuesday night, 11:30pm. After 5 hours at A&E, Emma and I were putting a screaming toddler to bed. The doorbell went.
“Who could that be?” asked Emma.
Somehow I knew. Clarity pierced through the cloud of tiredness, set-upon-ness, and noble sufferer-ness that I’d been nurturing all evening. Suddenly I realised I was guilty – of a crime that, without the doorbell, I’d have blithely ignored. But with the bell came instant conviction. And rest.
You see, after 5 hours at the hospital, (Ruby’s absolutely fine by the way – just a bug), I drove a very tired 2-year old home, (Emma had gone to get the house ready just before). Having held it together in the hospital, Ruby lost it in the car – hysterical all the way back. After the short drive home I circled the block looking for a parking space. Only one was anywhere near close to home. A tight fit but I got in. Here’s the problem though – as I slid into the space, I grazed the bumper of the car in front.
At the time I couldn’t hear anything over my daughter and it didn’t feel like I thought grazing bumpers should feel. Not really. Not really really. I was very vaguely aware that my brain was trying to tell me something. For a nanosecond I received the message: “Might have jusssst grazed bumpers there.” One nanosecond later the military-industrial complex called “Project Justify-Me” kicked into action: “Probably ok. If I really grazed bumpers I’d really have felt it. And if there was a real problem I wouldn’t have gotten into the space. And this is what bumpers are for, right? And you can’t really trust your feelings, you haven’t eaten since lunch. And that guy hasn’t left any room has he? Why aren’t people more considerate? And how come there aren’t any parking spaces on the street, especially after the night I’ve had? And how am I meant to get a screaming Ruby out of the car and lock up when the central locking is busted? And why haven’t I gotten the central locking fixed? And…”
So in a nanosecond – or less, honestly – the suspicion that I’d grazed another bumper vanished in the crisis management protocol: Do the next thing. And that’s what I did. I did the next thing with my daughter, and the next thing, and the next thing and I didn’t even think to look at our bumpers. I didn’t mention it to Emma. And then the doorbell went and “Project Justify-Me” evaporated. In an instant I knew with complete certainty what I’d done and who was at the door. I have to tell you it was a blessed relief.
“I think I know who it is,” I said to my wife.
Alf from a few doors down was very good about it. “A neighbour said you dinged my car.” “I hope I haven’t,” I said. “Let’s take a look.”
As I write this, “Project Justify-Me” is insisting I tell you how minor the scratch was and how it could have happened to anyone and how Alf was totally over-reacting. But the truth is I dinged his car and then moved on. Which is a bad thing to do. Like a properly cruddy thing to have done. And I did it.
Embarrassingly, I didn’t have a pen to hand so, to exchange details, I gave him my business card: “Glen Scrivener, Evangelist”. Great witness, right?
So what do we learn? Apart from Don’t park near the Scrivener residence. Here’s two things I keep thinking:
1) How scary is Project Justify-Me? Without the doorbell I’d have never given a second thought to what I’d done. I barely gave it a first thought. Even as it happened I was preventing myself from experiencing my wrong-doing and, on one level, I managed to suppress the truth very successfully – even in the midst of my crime! What am I like?
But mainly I’ve been thinking…
2) That doorbell was a lifesaver. It brought clarity and a lightness of spirit I can’t describe. I virtually skipped down the stairs as I went to the door. Why?
Because instantly I went from put-upon parent to guilty sinner whose only hope was to come clean and rely on mercy. It was wonderful. The law had sounded a clear note. My conscience was pricked, my pride was deflated and suddenly I could simply be the sinner that I had always been.
It’s incredibly wearying being “righteous”. Project Justify-Me is like the computer program running in the background taking up all your memory. What a relief for the bell to toll so that we drop the act and look bad in the presence of love. That’s the whole point of the gospel.
And this is why we confess our sins. It’s a life-giving spiritual practice. It’s the time when the bell tolls and we drop Project Justify-Me.
When we try to be anything else it leads to pride, shame, despair or hardness. But in confession we can simply be sinners. That’s who we are. And that’s who Jesus came for.