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Why Do We Keep Going Back?

A friend shared a church meme with me the other night, something about Jesus saying “I gave them the Beatitudes, why do they keep studying Leviticus?” And I laughed and thought about church history and our penchant for rules and checklists and certainty. The need to be right. Which took me to reflecting on how pervasive that behavior is in our culture and perhaps most of the world. After all, historically getting it right meant survival, while guessing or being satisfied with the moment was likely to lead to an early death.

But not so quick there. That evolutionary formula leaves out half the story of the human condition--the need for balance and restoration, and for finding the bigger answers and ideas behind the urgent questions of the moment. Jesus often talked about the importance of those things and not about winning or being right. He spoke of how quiet and counterintuitive the kingdom of God is, as in the mustard seed that grows into a big thorny bush (Matthew 13) or as in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) where the sad and humble and peaceable are said to be the blessed ones. And then there is the passage famously set to music in The Messiah about coming to him to find rest and have our burdens eased. So if Jesus was trying to tell us about something better and more important than being correct or the best, why is it so hard for us to accept?

Why do we keep going back to criticism and recrimination and judgement and nit-picking? We are pretty comfortable identifying our shortcomings and trying vainly to improve ourselves by sheer willpower. Or wallowing in hopelessness because we keep failing. We are also quick to point out other people’s failings and how all the trouble they caused could have been avoided if they had just done things our way in the first place! We love to have checklists of traits and behaviors that allow a person to be “in” or “out” of different groups. Even online job searches now focus on keywords without which you don’t get a chance to show the hiring manager who you are and how you shine.

So what if we looked at each other with an eye for the positive, and what if we looked at ourselves the same way? Why not identify what is good and true and unique and dependable.What if we saw ourselves as both flawed and beautiful, and saw the people around us the same way? Saw our partners and our office mates as both wounded and successful, annoying and delightful.

It’s time to awaken to kindness and have a fresh eye for overlooked treasure. Let’s tell ourselves the truth for a change, that nothing’s all bad or all good, but more often a confounding mixture of good, bad and neutral. Ugly and glorious. And that includes ourselves. Let it be enough, and hold yourself, your friends and your enemies with compassion and patience. We don’t need to rehash Leviticus--Jesus taught us the Beatitudes. It’s time to practice blessings.

With joy for your journey, Eileen J Terry

Read more about Eileen here.

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