Normalizing Our Obstacles

+JMJ+

A few weeks ago, I finally had to admit that my gel kitchen mat needed to go. It had been punctured a few times, left wet a few too many times, and it was just a mess. I rolled it up and tossed it away. That was that.

But when I went into the kitchen a few minutes later, I almost fell on my face. I had caught myself trying to walk around the place where the kitchen mat used to be, realized I didn’t need to do that, and stumbled over my own feet as I tried to correct course mid-stride. It was an odd sensation, but when it happened again and again and again over the next few days, I really started to feel unnerved. What was happening?

Anyone who has owned a gel kitchen mat knows that you aren’t supposed to wear high-heels while standing on them. I frequently wear simple heels around the house, and so I had gotten used to avoiding the floor space where I might puncture the mat. It was so much a part of my subconscious navigation around the house that I found myself trying to avoid the same floor space even after the mat was gone! I had to retrain myself to move normally around our little kitchen– and it took a couple of weeks before I felt completely confident doing something as simple as walking.

While relearning this simple skill, I began pondering this concept of a normalized obstacle. What other things have I acclimated myself to “work around?” There are many such things in life, particularly the presence of other people: coworkers, family… kids. But what about something a little more pernicious? What about spiritual obstacles that we’ve erected for ourselves? After all, I knew when I put that mat down on the floor that my heels were going to be a problem. I chose to accept the obstacle– and unbeknownst to me, it not only made navigating my kitchen a bit trickier, but it made me feel awkward when I finally had the obstacle removed.

I was reminded of the words of Christ:

3Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.– Matthew 7:3-5

At first it seems so obvious to the reader that someone with a log in their eye (even speaking metaphorically) should sense discomfort, should realize their vision was impaired, should be able to sense this large obstacle– the hypocrisy is blatant! Yet Jesus acknowledges that we with logs in our eyes are completely oblivious. Why, the Lord asks, do we not notice these things? Coming from the lips of an omniscient God, this critique really makes us seem pathetic. How can we not notice?!

This is why we sin. And we continue to sin. And we are blind to it, because it’s so much a part of our regular routine that we don’t even notice the obstacles we’ve put up between us and God’s love. I am someone who has a hard time going to confession– partly because of my family life right now, but also because I have a tendency to think along these lines, “Confession isn’t required more than once a year, unless you’re in a state of mortal sin. I’m not in a state of mortal sin. Also, reception of the Eucharist can relieve venial sins, so really– I don’t need to go.” It’s pure rationalization coming from a state of willful blindness.

But when I permit myself to stop and really think about it, I realize the great need I have for regular examinations of conscience and regular confession. A saint would not be content with the bare minimum and the happy opinion that they aren’t in a state of mortal sin. A saint knows that we all sin all the time, and that if we allow venial sins to pile up, we soon find ourselves with huge logs to remove– and it’s going to be a painful, awkward adjustment when we finally get it taken care of. If we only go to confession once a year, we may feel great afterwards, but we may also stumble a bit as we try to navigate life removed of the burden of that log. It might be awkward, and it might even feel more comfortable for us to stay away from confession for a while so that we can get back to our happy state of obstacle-avoidance.

I may not feel like I need to go to confession in any sort of ontological sense, but I need to go to confession so that I don’t get used to the log. I need to go to confession so I don’t get back in the habit of obliviously navigating around these pockets of sin in my life. We are weak and have to admit that sometimes, sin is a more comfortable existence for we who have trained ourselves to ignore its presence.

So, I hope my gel mat and I have convinced you to go to confession, not just because it’s Lent, but because the Divine Physician sees what you cannot– and knows just how to fix it, and help you avoid it in the future.

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