Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Hand tossing a rock

There’s a three-word declaration that is almost impossible for us to say. It contradicts human nature, which seeks to deny fault for a mistake (or even to deny there ever was a mistake). This declaration requires an effort that is counter to that nature and a humility to accept responsibility.

It’s much easier for us to say, “It’s not my fault!” and point the finger at someone else. If we trace back to the story of the first humans in the book of Genesis, that’s basically how humanity began. I ate the fruit, but it’s her fault for giving it to me. She made me do it!

Our culture hates signs of weakness, and it despises what it considers to be step-backs. If you make an inflammatory claim, you stand behind it. If someone factually disproves it, you attack them personally and turn the mob on them. Don’t ever suggest you made a mistake. Don’t ever flinch. Keep attacking, regardless of the fight.

I believe this approach is entirely unhealthy. I also believe that change starts with the individual, and I can only control myself. So here’s my confession.

I was wrong.

I’ve fallen into that aggressive track far too many times. I never joined a debate team, but I rarely met an argument I couldn’t win. Sometimes winning came through logic; sometimes it came through volume; sometimes it came through vicious and cruel words. Sometimes people left crying. But I won. And I feel terrible about it now.

See, I thought life was all about winning. And for every winner, there has to be a loser (at least, that’s how I thought). And somehow I applied this approach to my faith, and figured I was going to be this great warrior for Christ convincing people to convert based on my theological and oratory brilliance. The key first step in this process was convincing people how wrong they were, how sinful they were, how much they needed Jesus (and, in effect, needed me to lead them to Jesus).

Words cannot express how wrong I was.

But here’s the thing: as much as we fight to not say those words, it’s incredibly freeing when we finally do. It reflects an acceptance that we can change, that we now know something we previously did not know. We have new information, and we can act on it. Because we weren’t meant to be static, and we weren’t meant to live in guilt at our past mistakes. We were meant to always be growing and learning and getting back up after we trip and fall.

You see, I was wrong that for there to be winners, there have to be losers. I was wrong that admitting fault is a sign of weakness. And even greater, I was wrong to think that weakness is a weakness.

It is in our weakness that we acknowledge our mistakes, our shortcomings, our need for help. It is in our weakness that we reach out a hand and ask somebody to love us and care for us. And it is in our weakness that we accept that love, which we can then share with others.

I have been very judgmental in the past. I always spotted other people’s struggles and shortcomings and recognized their need for Jesus. And in my mind, their “need for Jesus” meant a need for me (or some other “loving Christian”) to come tell them all their faults and command them to repent and turn to Jesus so they don’t burn in hell.

In my weakness, I projected strength. Sure, I would say the right things about how we’re all sinners of equal merit (there is no ranking of sin), including myself, and I tried to convince myself I really believed it. But I didn’t. Otherwise I never would’ve acted the way I did.

John 8:1-11 tells the story of Jesus encountering a woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders of the day bring her to Him (likely naked and in the most embarrassing, low moment of her life) in front of a group of people and reference the Law of Moses saying to stone her (notice there is no penalty for the man who must have also been complicit in this act, but that’s a separate issue). But Jesus, in His mercy, tells the crowd “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Slowly the crowd leaves, recognizing their own unworthiness to cast a stone. Finally, He tells the woman He does not condemn her and offers a final word to “go now and leave your life of sin.”

I’ve heard this story thousands of times in my life. But here’s the problem I had (and this is another “I was wrong” admissions): I always placed myself in the role of Jesus in the story. Wow, that sounds so presumptuous to admit and type. And it was. But I thought my role was to make a brilliant speech about how we all have sin and don’t condemn, but finish with the call to action of “now go sin no more.”

Here’s the thing: it’s great when Jesus does it. It’s terrible when I do it. Here’s why. I’m not Jesus. The role I should actually see myself in while reading this story is one of the members of the mob (not The Mob, like Godfather style, but you get the picture). Because really, I’m always ready to throw stones at others until an encounter with Jesus once again reveals my own shortcomings.

Once again, I was wrong.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage each other to go and sin no more. But I am saying I’m going to drop my stone, go home, and reevaluate my own thoughts and deeds. Because I don’t want to contribute any more to the culture that throws stones and blame at others to distract from our own failings.

I was wrong. Those three words seem so hard to say at first, but the more you say them the more freeing it becomes. Looking back, I recognize that I was trapped in a very pessimistic view of the world and my faith, always ready to throw stones. I’m glad I was wrong. Because it means we have hope for the future.

I’m terrified by the things I see in the world today and our extremely negative culture, but I have hope. Because if I can recognize that I was wrong, I believe we all can. And when we do, we can humbly take responsibility and step forward to make the world a more positive, loving place.

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