From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!

Make a Choice For Today

I know I normally start things off with a Scriptural quote followed by a topical discussion on how to live faithfully. That’s all well and good, but this is Monday, and I feel we are in need of a short, simple commission before the week begins. After all, how we approach today will largely determine the experience we can expect for this week.

Jesus boils the entirety of Jewish law and religion down to a single “coin” with two complementing sides. Matthew 22:37-39 states that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life lived in faith is life lived in love.

This all seems simple enough, but for some reason we take a passive approach to this central teaching. We already have habits that determine how we react, and more often than not, they conflict severely with the law of love. That jerk in traffic, the office pain, our most annoying family member, or the odd political ad all tend to reveal the superficial effort we put into loving our neighbors, simultaneously exposing how little we think of loving God.

The neat thing about habits, though, is that they can be changed, but it is not a passive process. We can’t just read and recite the words while waiting for something to magically happen. Instead, we must make a conscious decision and effort. Every morning, before we even encounter another soul, we should set our intention to strive for love throughout the day, no matter who or what we face. If we do this every day, we will eventually establish a habit that will lead to greater awareness and transformation in our daily lives.

So today, whether you’ve already screamed your way into society or are preparing to do so, take a moment. Ponder the words of Christ in your mind, feel them in your heart, and envision what it would look like for you to live them throughout your day. I guarantee you it will be a difficult and rewarding process that will enrich your life and the lives of those you encounter. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.

Peace be with you!