As one gets older, thinking about one’s life can be a somewhat disheartening occupation. Nothing is perfect, nothing was done perfectly, almost everything could have been done better. There is little cause for genuine satisfaction. Yes, perhaps you did this or that in the distant past which worked well and to your “credit” but really there is very little that gives us unalloyed satisfaction.
We always see the flaws in the things that we make. Others may not see them, but we can, because we are aware of our own imperfections, and the imperfections that we pass on to the things that we try to do whether it’s carpentry at home or writing a book or painting a picture or carrying out some task for an employer, looking back, we are acutely aware of how much better it might have been done.
So seldom do we actually consciously bring God into everything that we do, seek His guidance, think how He might approve or disapprove. If we did, far more of our life would be carried out properly.
Like most people, I am very, very far from perfect. I can look back on my life and see all the mistakes, sometimes catastrophic mistakes I’ve made. I made them myself, there is no one to blame but me. I can (and often do) try to lay the blame elsewhere. Certainly I have flaws that I can claim to have been born with and which went unrecognised for most of my life and therefore contributed greatly to my offences, omissions, mistakes. I assume that God makes His own allowances for my built-in flaws and then assesses my efforts taking that into account. It doesn’t necessarily lessen my own private embarrassment at what I have done as I see and recognise it now.
Some of our errors and offences are beyond repair because events have moved on and there is nothing that can be done. Lessons can still be learned and re-thinking of our behaviour can be put into place.
However, I’ve talked about repentance before and that is what comes next. If you have never really done it, its difficult to understand. Understanding exactly what repentance is and what it entails is vitally important because repentance is the major action that God requires of us in the aftermath of the mess that we continually make in our lives.
Insofar as one is responsible for some mistake or offence, one can decide never to go that way again. That is in effect, repenting and repenting is what one does, if one understands the term properly. In the first place, repenting isn’t loudly bewailing or bursting into tears. The “tears” are the initial Godly sorrow for one’s failings and that sorrow comes from recognising just what it is that we have done and the magnitude of our offence. Seemingly small things that we do can have great effects which we don’t recognise until we think them carefully through. Tears, however, are only a beginning; someone who weeps and never moves on is like the seed that fell on stony ground.
Once that time of sorrow is done in whatever way, the repenting is more profound because it now involves changing our life significantly. It is literally a re-thinking of the way one lives. Our offences, however small, are nevertheless significant in that they reveal problems in the way we are living our lives. We so blithely carry on often never realising the great effects, negative effects we can unknowlingly have on those around us. The wake of trouble that we can leave behind us as we carry on can be truly very large.
Our pride and our selfishness are often very great causes of the trouble that we cause others. Often we think ourselves to be the soul of care for others not recognising the basic selfishness of our actions. Often we simply do not recognise basic dishonesty in our behaviour. Of course we are not stealing or doing overtly dishonest things, but nevertheless there is an underlying dishonesty in many of our actions and words.
Often enough, it is selfishness or pride that leads to offences, mistakes if you like, things that are wrong. Those things may seem unconnected at first, which is why we do need to analyse how and why they happened because until we do, repentance is impossible. You cannot resolve to change selfishness if you don’t understand that it was the cause of an offence. Many of us lie in tiny, almost nuanced statements, things that are not quite the truth, and we don’t even recognise our lying because it really is second nature to us. Pride is the most insidious of all for it permeates most of our lives. We don’t recognise it but it is there, hidden but active. Therefore analysing what we do minutely is so very important because it reveals to us the multitude of otherwise unrecognised failings that we have. These are submerged into the fabric of our lives and that means that we need radical and ongoing monitoring and changing if we are ever to get closer to God.
You may regret the wrong action, but that won’t lead to repentance. Understanding what caused the action in the first place – our habitual ways of thinking and behaviour – gives us the clue as to how to change our attitudes and habits in order to obviate the repetition in the future.
I could go on and on about this, but there isn’t much point. Analysing the root cause of a wrong action enables us to properly re-think things in order to ensure that we don’t go that way again.
Righting wrongs that we have done is extremely important and must be done if it is at all possible. Of course there are (rare) occasions in life where force majeure intervenes and prevents the righting of a wrong or the taking of a right course. All that can be done then is sorrow and analysis and repentance. Wrongs committed in the distant past may be beyond righting. The very method of righting a wrong may be incalculable. There are however other ways of making recompense sometimes and it is worth being inventive at times.
Sometimes we make major blunderings in our life that have far-reaching effects – perhaps long into the future. We need to look at these events to see as far as we can the effects that have attended our mistake, to understand the magnitude of the unintended effects of what we have done. This is important to our ability to change our ways because the nature of our mistake may not be immediately clear. Righting such wrongs may be difficult or impossible or others may deliberately prevent us from correcting matters because to do so could cause added distress. However if we show willing, then at least we are clear, we cannot force others to cooperate.
Life is complicated and unravelling it is far from easy. Probably none of us has an easy conscience. Those who converted late in life and were Baptised know the immense feeling of relief that immediately and unexpectedly overtakes us as the weight and burden is suddenly lifted. There is no denying that the previous lifetime of wrongdoing is forgiven and lifted from our shoulders.
For all those contemplating converting, I can only recommend a thorough life analysis, repenting and Baptism into The Church for the benefits that will suddenly accrue even against our expectations.
There is no easy path through life. The Way demands that we follow the narrow path – the Royal Path – and that demands a good deal of our concentration. A huge part of this is cutting back the silly pleasures (magazines, much television, internet quizzes, video games and other time wasters) which we seem to have more of than ever, and using that time to spend time with ourselves, with our guardian angel who watches over us and who is pained by our sins and tries continually to guide us to better things, and with God Himself who is always there, always waiting. Take a cup of tea into the garden and watch the birds in thankfulness. Read a good book, perhaps the life of a saint, and ponder it in your heart for a time before moving on to the next book. Go to Vigils. Make your confession more often. Discuss the Scriptures with other believers. All these things will help open your heart and mind to a better understanding of yourself and a clearer vision of the path ahead.