Let it not be said in my lifetime that the humble cannot be further humbled. Nor is it always true that the contrite are always sorry for their sins. Some have declined to do right in these respects, preferring satisfaction that comes from emotion, or from the temporary exhilarations of life. They do this for many reasons, but one is certainly exhaustion. How long being good before they can enjoy the pleasures of being bad on a few occasions?

The picture that I paint is less truth than fiction. It serves my mind well, making clear a conscious decision to bend away from what is right for self-satisfaction – even for a short moment. But I have felt times when seemingly small deviations from the Right further me toward increasingly depraved acts, thoughts, and words. If something small is justified, small steps can be taken to justify even more. How is this ok? If we see at the beginning that the steps rise – however slowly – to something horribly deviant from our innate, good nature, we would be more likely to stop ourselves at the very first justification. Instead, we – and I say this from a personal perspective – look at only a single step. How bad is this tiny deviation, after all? Would God strike me down for such an insignificant thing? Can it even be called a sin? And on and on go our equivocations, even before the act, word, or thought.

This is how I have been living for a while. I didn’t even realize I was doing it – playing both sides against each other. I hypocritically played the holy man, desiring at all times to do God’s work and serve Him with my gifts and the opportunities He provides. But while I professed a wish to live out this conviction, real life was quite different. Looking back, I see that I was not merely an observer or victim of division, but I was a divider. Perhaps I still am. I divided and sought out support for my side such that I could be justified again and again. That justification – though I received it from some – was contaminated from the start. Who can justify me but God? In my heart, I had turned away from seeking His help and guidance in my trouble and instead sought the tangible, audible, and “real” support of friends and family. As if this weren’t bad enough – forcing those I love to choose me and my intentions above others – I based my actions on their support. Do they love me? Yes. Should I have expected differently? Perhaps not. But I am keen enough on love and my own faults that I should not have brought love into an arena that purposely divided.

Should I divest myself of all good intention? No. I know that I tried in certain instances to appreciate all perspectives – what I proclaim as my hallmark – and to act according to the holistic well-being of all individuals and relationships involved. But I failed in this respect – I failed to uphold myself by playing the false martyr, and I insulted the truth by appealing to others for empathy that outdid the received empathy of those from whom I was divided. It was a battle of numbers at times, even if it existed only in my mind. I wanted to be right; I wanted to be endorsed by wise, intelligent, loving people who could objectively see the Right in my actions and words.

This honesty is difficult for me. Part of me wishes very much to play the martyr forever, dangling my soul in front of abusers such that I earn not only attention, but a dramatic salvation. In my later years, however, I have come to understand that such drama is not desired by God and does nothing for anyone I interact with. True, I am here to learn about God and earn salvation according to His will for me, but I must also realize that His will does, must, and forever will necessitate the unfeigned love of friend and neighbor. This must mean giving up the façade, the act, the game. There will be no blood stains; the division will not earn a crowd; empty sacrifice will not be praised. I have to get away from archaic notions of self-giving and remember that I am living today. How does Jeff, in all of this messed up life – both beautiful and troubling – live out true, honest, healthy relationships to the end of mutual love?

So I reconsider my approach. No more charging the gladiators, no more self-flagellation with hollow cries of pain. What is the best way, according to God, according to Goodness and the Right, to restore relationship with those who are in my life? Things have fallen apart. Is it irrevocable? Will our separation be the best for both of us? I cannot read the future; I certainly can’t pretend to know it as God does. Still, I am given the challenge: look at yourself and those you love with a tender and forgiving heart. At the same time, be pragmatic and healthy. Un-needed self-sacrifice only takes away; it gives nothing for its loss. Therefore, do I maintain my relationships and put forth the energy to attempt their restoration? Or will that energy be put to an unsavory end? I know I can never know the true end, but I can trust God as He lives and works in me. At some point, I must make a decision for my own health as a child and minister of God; I must also decide for those who are, by their birthright, granted salvation alongside me.

I have neglected this honesty, recognizing it at the ironic moment when I stood as proclaimer of God’s Word. At the pulpit, reading from the Bible, I felled the power of Scripture as it should have been, choking it with my divisions and anger. I can only be thankful that before I had finished reading, He made me aware of my own blindness. The second reading was far more inspiritng than the first, and I can take no credit for it. Because of that experience – because I sat and listened for the first time in a long time – I heard Him. I finally heard Him. God willing, I can help heal the wounds I have only deepened, I can restore the faith that preserves life and ignites the resurrecting power of love. I can live as He calls me to live, and not according to divisions and justifications.