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Have mercy on us

I got it wrong. I’ve no idea why, but I mis-counted. In last week’s blog, I stated that in 1881 Sr Lenora was living with her parents and 6 siblings. Initially, I hadn’t made a note of her siblings individually, just noted 4 sisters and 2 brothers. That makes 6, right? Except I then decided to research the siblings further, and went back to 1881 and noted their names down separately, but didn’t count them until later last week. 5 sisters and 3 brothers makes 8, though. I must have missed two on my original recording of it.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything sinister in this, except possibly I need to concentrate more (and, I assure you, there’s normally nothing wrong with my counting skills). But the fact is that I am human, which means that I make errors sometimes, I get things wrong or muddled up. The bible affirms me in this fact (see Romans 3:23). Failing and getting it wrong is a fact of human life; it’s maybe our response to that which is more important. How do we respond when we err? With sorrow and repentance, or with condemning anger against ourselves? Or do we deny it completely? We can have far too high a standard for our own behaviour: perfectionism is not only impossible to attain, it keeps us struggling to become a version of ourselves which we are not, and which we cannot be. Or we can go to the opposite extreme, convinced of our own unlovable-ness, our own nastiness, so that we cannot see beyond that to God’s true and abiding love for each one of us.

Our whole response to the times when we get it wrong may be far more about our deeper view of ourselves, than about what we actually did wrong. If we think we should be perfect, or if we are convinced that we are unloved or horrible or stupid or whatever other negative feelings may be around, then whenever we mess up, it is likely to either confirm that negative view of ourselves or cut across the far too high standard we have. Either way may leave us struggling with negative feelings, with condemnation that may far outweigh the original offence, and which are just as much a barrier between us and God as the original offence. Or it could lead us to deny we have done anything wrong. To accept the truth of Romans 3:23; to accept the fact that we will err and mess up sometimes, while not denying the very real problems that may cause, may be more helpful. It may enable us to come before God in a spirit of repentance, sorry for what we have done wrong, but not overweighing the offence; in a place where we can accept God’s merciful forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit’s help to change and grow (while not expecting that to lead to perfection). It may leave us in a place where we can accept the consequences of our behaviour without indulging in self-condemnation or self-justification. Consequences that may be fairly severe, especially if needed to safeguard others; but where we may also see that a simple apology is all that is needed.

So, I am sorry that I mis-led any of you who read last week’s blog as the number of Sr Lenora’s siblings, two more of whom were born after the 1881 Census. Cyril, the youngest brother, was born in the mid-1880s, twenty years after Sr Lenora, whom I have always seen as one of our early Sisters. Not the earliest, but still she joined in M. Lavinia’s time, and died at the end of the second world war; very distant from my own generation. It came as something of a surprise, then, to discover that Cyril died only a couple of years before I was born. It brought to bear something of the importance of our faith, and how we hand it on from one generation to the next. That it is a privilege, a gift to be treasured, to be handed over to those who come after, as we all take our place in the God’s kingdom. How does this relate to what I’ve been saying? Well, mainly that it takes humility, a humble and reverent attitude towards our God, which can only come from a deep-seated awareness of God’s acceptance of and love for us. The same kind of attitude with which we should approach ourselves and our neighbours, and an attitude which can lead us to that appropriate contrition for all we have done, and are doing, wrong. A humility which neither exaggerates or minimizes our faults, but brings us before our God in a true and honest repentance. Our God, who will be there, ready and waiting to forgive.

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