O God, Be merciful to Me a Sinner

Over the years, God has been slowly but surely cracking away at the walls and stoniness of my heart and easing me into the fact that I am imperfect and a sinner. This seems so obvious, but for me, it has really been a truth that I have struggled to accept for a long time. Growing up, I had so much fear of doing wrong, of misstepping and being unloved for it. I didn’t understand the vastness of God’s mercy, so I convinced myself that I didn’t need it. I only thought about my sins twice a year before I went to confession and the rest of the time I allowed myself to be blind to them. Pride definitely factored its way in, and over time, I became like the sinner spoken of in Psalm 36 who “so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt.” I thought that I really didn’t do very much wrong—I was a “good person.”

Something in me always wanted to believe that I needed God, to believe that I was a sinner and that Jesus was my only hope, but a deep-seated fear of punishment and doubt of His mercy kept me from fully accepting my sins and His forgiveness. The more the Lord began to move in my heart, though, the more I realized that I am weak, that I do fall, that I am a sinner. The problem then, was that after recognizing my sins, I would fall into despair. Truly seeing my sinfulness, I would go to confession, but would be unable to forgive myself even when God already had. I would get stuck running from one extreme to the other—either convincing myself that I hadn’t done anything that bad, or being distraught and unable to forgive myself.

In the past year or so, God has been teaching me to both admit my sins and allow myself to be forgiven and loved despite them. One sin that I know I often fall into is being critical of others and I’ve never understood why its something I struggle with so much. Last week, I read in Community and Growth that “If we judge, it is often because there is something inside us that we feel guilty about and which we do not want to look at or allow others to see” (36). Then it clicked for me: when I find myself pointing fingers, its because I’m scared, because I know deep down that I’m the one who’s fallen. Today, I decided that I’m tired of running between the two extemes. I’m tired of trying to convince myself that I haven’t messed up when I have. I’m tired of being the person who “see[s] the speck that is in [my] brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in [my] own eye” (Matthew 7:3). I don’t want to act out of fear, afraid to take an honest look at my life; I want my eyes to be opened to my sin and then like Peter run to the Lord begging for His mercy, trusting that He will answer me, “Do not be afraid.”

Instead of being like the pharisee who “stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” I want to be that tax collector who knows that he has sinned and “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’” (Luke 18:11-13). I pray that especially during this Lenten season I can acknowledge and remember my sinfulness, waiting upon the Lord, knowing that His mercy flows from the cross and knowing that God will not spurn “a humbled, contrite heart.”

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