136 Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Such an innocuous chant, with the rhythm of a nursery rhyme, but somehow I feel I'm never able to reach the state of nirvana it describes. It takes a great deal of strength of character not to be impacted by words, spoken or otherwise. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the person I've become, and how easily I have slipped into the habit of letting disparaging comments about other people slide: from my mouth and others'. Nearly every Sunday at Mass, the congregation is dismissed with the words, "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life." Have I been glorifying Him with my life? What worth is my peace if it comes at the cost of others'?

Often I spend very long thinking about how others have hurt me, without sparing a thought for how I have hurt others. 

Being jealous used to be my key problem; but being prideful is another, seemingly contradictory, yet equally pressing, one. More insidious than the outward displays of arrogance are the little voices in your head that think, "I'm so much better," "She doesn't deserve this," "Who does she think she is?!" (Even the littlest of voices. Those that go, "She's too fat to be wearing that dress." And you're too unimportant to be making that judgment!) It's these voices that lead to words, and actions, and attitudes.

I went for Confession on Thursday, just before Advent ends. Confession, for non-Catholics, is when you confess your sins to a priest. He then absolves them in the name of the Lord, but it doesn't end there. It does mean that the Lord forgives you, and you can release your burden. But just like a shopaholic who has recently paid off all her debts knows, a bonus in the paycheck doesn't save you from incurring more debt. The priest also gives you penance, prayers to say as you think about why you did what you did, and how you --and the Lord-- can work to stop doing them. 

It made me think of this illustration:
Credit: Amanda Geisinger
In the illustration, God is the angry cloud, and Jesus the 'God made Man' who takes the arrows for us. But I was thinking of another explanation.

Before Jesus came, we all shot arrows at each other with our hurtful words and nasty actions. But you don't see these wounds on the surface; they're below the skin, festering hurts, gathering habits. Over time these accumulate, weakening us, and yet we don't know any other way to live, so we continue taking aim. Now imagine Jesus diving in front of arrows for us, while healing old wounds. He strengthens us, and protects us, but we have to remember we are not just the victim.

We are also the perpetrators of wounds and hurts.

It would make Jesus's job so much easier if we just stopped shooting.

And that, for me, is my main takeaway from Confession this year.

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