Two weeks ago, in a small Texas town, a mother closed her car door and walked away, forgetting about her child in the car seat. Five hours passed. Finally she remembered. Her little boy would have turned two this month.
And we say, “I would never do that.”
Years ago, in a family I know well, an impoverished young mother in Arkansas was down on her luck, unable to feed her children. But there was a manager at the grocery store who was willing help her out. In exchange for her stepping into his office for a few minutes. She went to bed that night feeling dirty and hating herself, but glad her family had eaten.
And we say, “I would never do that.”
I would never do that—whatever “that” is. I would never forget my children. I would never sell my body. I would never shake my baby in a fit of rage, never cheat on my spouse, never get hooked on drugs, never whatever.
It is healthy for us to come to grips with how sick we are.
There are things we can see ourselves doing, and there are things we never see ourselves doing. There are boundaries between good and evil we would never cross.
So we tell ourselves. But is it true? Are there really limits to what—on a really bad day, in a fit of rage, in a tornadic swirl of emotions—we wouldn’t do?
Who Is Willing to Destroy a Piece of His Own Heart?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Indeed, who is? Are you?
It is healthy for us to come to grips with how sick we are. This is perhaps the hardest thing for us to do. Because it means we’ll destroy a piece of our own hearts. Experience a kind of death. The death of our ego.
We like to write in our minds a self-congratulatory autobiography. In it we highlight the good things we’ve done. And we’ll admit to some mistakes, a few weaknesses, maybe even a gross violation of morality. But don’t ask us to imagine ourselves writing a chapter about doing the unthinkable. Those things really bad people do. Unlike others, there are limits to the evils of which we are capable.
Becoming the People We Would Never Become
When I was in my 20’s, I would have said, “There’s no way I would do this or do that.” I turn 47 next month. And the “this” and “that,” well, I’ve done them. I’ve sunk my teeth into wrongs I once deemed despicable, far beneath me.
That person I would never become, I became.
And, thankfully, God used even those situations to do his work in me. To stick a pin in my inflated ego. To shred those self-congratulatory chapters in my autobiography. God used my evil to reveal his goodness—the kind of goodness that rescues me from myself by putting me into Jesus.
A Healthy, Realistic Prayer
There’s a prayer I like to pray that goes like this:
Lord, deliver me from the evils of which I am capable,
and especially those of which I think I am incapable.
It’s a healthy prayer, a realistic prayer, that peers into the deepest depths of our hearts and sees therein the seeds of cosmic wrong that, in certain situations, can blossom into toxic evils that unleash pain into our lives and the lives of others.
So we pray for God to deliver us from ourselves. To forgive us, for Jesus’s sake, when we do evil.
We also pray for our Father to grant us compassion and sympathy for others—for parents who forget their children, women who sell their bodies, addicts who leave a path of destruction, and all the others who do those things of which we ourselves are also very capable.
Good Lord, deliver us.
Good Lord, forgive us.
Good Lord, increase our faith, our hope, our love.
Good Lord, save us from ourselves.
And he does, he most certainly does, all because of Christ, who would never do one thing: cease to love us and call us back to himself.