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Sometimes life feels like reading your favorite author. There is a slight…well, maybe, grand jealousy. You pour over the pages wishing you could craft even one sentence like them – even one life like them – but it never seems to come that easy. Words never seem to flow from your lips or hands, from your head and heart quite as penned and poetic as you would like. You want to tell her you love her, but it comes out as “I love pizza. You want to go eat?” instead.
There is both a great risk and a great necessity in our words.
This is why I feel such a burden for parents. There is an immense pressure on parents to get it right, to say the right words to their kids at the right times. The problem is no one is perfect and kids never create perfect scenarios. Parents are going to say the wrong things over and over.
But that doesn’t stop parents from speaking to their kids. Parents understand, perhaps more than most, the deep necessity of words. What parent who has lost a child wouldn’t give anything for one more bedtime story or one more chance to say “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “Stop poking your brother before I turn this car around!”?
You see, we may not get our words right every time, but we must never stop speaking. We can never silence our voices because others need our voices.
And we need our voices.
Our voices are the fields where our souls can run free.
Yes, words can be liberating, but there is an underlying fear that we may not be understood and we desperately long to be understood. Sometimes my soul cries to be understood, not necessarily agreed with, but simply understood. Unfortunately, I am far too often silent for fear that I’ll never be understood. I’m in a catch-22.
I think this is sometimes how we feel about speaking with God. We fear that in our humanity we’ll never be understood, and worse yet, judged by an omnipotent God, so we avoid speaking to God at all.
But the opposite could never be more true. God, the source from which all things live and move and have their being, longs for conversation with us. Divinity longs for us to pour out our broken and misunderstood hearts so it can say “I understand” and sooth us with a bedtime story.
One such story begins like this: One day Jesus was telling a story to his closest followers, addressing the need for conversation, for prayer, with God. “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man” (Luke 18:10, The Message).
Pharisees were the religious elite, the ones you would expect to find praying at the Temple. And tax men could not be more hated. However you feel about the IRS pales in comparison to how people felt about tax collectors in Jesus’ day. A tax man didn’t just tax you, he robbed you. Seeing a tax man going to Temple to pray would have been like seeing your drunk uncle showing up to 6am mass – highly unlikely.
But, Jesus continued, “The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income’” (Luke 18:11-12, The Message).
The Pharisee came before God, posed, boasting about who he was not and about all he had done. After all, he didn’t take people’s money like the tax man; he gave a tenth of his money away to the Temple. He spoke all the words he thought God wanted to hear.
“Meanwhile,” according to Jesus, “the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13, The Message).
Some translations even say the tax man beat his chest. He came humbly, not posed, not even daring to look up, ashamed to be seen. He came beating his chest because that’s how he felt. He came before God without flowery words, without worthy accomplishments, just a simple profession of who he was – a tax man, a sinner.
And this was Jesus’ response.
“This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (Luke 18:14, The Message).
And this is Jesus’ response to you and me: be content to be simply yourself.
You don’t have to say all the right things at all the right times. You don’t have to pose. You just have to say what’s on your heart and beat your chest, if it helps, because this is how we become greater.