As I was preparing to head out to this lunch, the thought flitted through my mind: What if she gets there first and has to wait? Then, immediately, I thought: Well, what if she does? Somebody has to get there first and wait, at least a moment or two. It might as well be her as me. Strange as it sounds, that concept had not previously entered my mind.
—Helen Anders, Austin-American Statesman, “Learning to keep calm and carry on with Transcendental Meditation” (login required)
Control is a pervasive sin. To fix an outcome—like, I will wait, because I trust my reaction but not yours—underlies much of what I hear beneath the words of so many people. It may be our greatest temptation, we who possess enough means and influence to entertain the notion. When we have means and influence/when I have means and influence, it’s easy to assume those things are tied to one’s individual activities. Which makes it easy to flip God’s world on its head and think that my activities determine ultimate outcomes,
to think that I’m in charge, somehow, and if it all goes wrong it’s my fault. (You thought I was going to say: and all the good things are to my credit, didn’t you?)
My theology professor calls this the sin of self-deprecation—a counterweight to hubris, the sin of out-of-balance pride.
Ms. Anders wasn’t thinking about faith in God, or original sin, when she wrote the above quote. She was writing about her new practice of Transcendental Meditation, and how it’s given her moments of self-reflection separated from critique or tension. I’m glad she’s found the technique—any practice that helps lessen our control-grip on life is a blessing for ourselves and the world, I think.
I do think, though, that we who follow Jesus already have those options at hand. If we shake our ears loose of culture—secular life or habitual Christianity, whatever—we hear about:
If God cherishes each sparrow, whose brains fit in a thimble, God equally cherishes each of us, whether our behavior makes it seem as if we’re bird-brained or not.
Besides, what makes us think that we can bribe God with our good behavior, or out-run God’s reach with our bad? Either of these approaches puts us in the driver’s seat, steering God around… and we know better than that.
God, steer me around. Help me remember to open my clutched hands. As I flatten my palms, I turn them upward and over to you. Bless me, in Christ’s name, because of your gift of grace.