“Count nothing more important that the love you should cherish for Christ…Don’t harbor in your heart any trace of deceit nor pretend to be at peace with another when you are not; don’t abandon the true standards of charity…speak truth with integrity of heart and tongue. “ (St. Benedict's Rule, Chapter 4)
Not one “trace of deceit” in my heart. Is that even possible? I’m a swirling bundle of motivations. A mess of pure intentions laced by the negative: a jumbled ball of wires so entwined in one another that to remove one or another is such an arduous process—that long act of fingering for the wire’s beginning—that it hardly seems worth it. After all, there are good motives there as well, right? Why dig and prod and untwist in effort to release the hurtful?
But they are hurtful. Every act of deceit is still deceit, even when hidden under the lovely. What does it mean the remove all pretense? All of it? Even the part of me that poses: The part of me that wants you to believe that I mother exactly the same as you so that I don’t risk your judgment. The part of me that wants you to label me well dressed or beautiful or eco-conscious or passionate about healing this world. What does it mean that I worry when my child seems out of control in front of you? Do you think I’m a failure because of him? Do you scoff at the ways I speak to him, my attempts at his correction?
I want you to be my friend because I’m funny. I want you be my friend because I know how to be silly. I want you to think I’m smart or at least well-read. I want you to think I’m capable, like the woman in the sculpture a friend once described to me: a baby at her breast in one arm, today’s hunted rabbit held out in the other: always both a mother and a fearsome thing of power.
So to clear my heart of every trace of deceit…what does that mean for me? What must I clear out? The simple longing for your approval? And what is beneath that longing?
Doesn’t it always come back to what I hold as most valuable? Benedict says to count nothing more important than how I love Christ.
All my life I’ve been told that loving Christ is a simple three-tiered system. Christ first, others second, myself third. Those people didn’t live in my mess of a wired brain, where there are no tiers—only patterns of blessing and patterns of cursing. Where what I want to love battles it out with what my broken mind tells me I must have to survive: approval, acceptance, success.
There are Jesus wires in there. Some are on top. Others must be dug out from underneath the wires of self-centeredness, quick anger, fear of discomfort, and on and on.
Maybe to love Christ above all, to count nothing more important than Christ, first begins with counting what is true. That practice of unstringing those fearsome wires begins by remembering that Christ the healer doesn’t simply share space with broken habits, he begins to reveal them. I want to live in a way that acknowledges that healing, that allows the Holy Spirit to fill the space of my mind. And then, when the hurtful wires makes themselves known, I can hear Jesus speaking peace to it, comforting this poser, offering me truth in the place of the lie:
- I am not bound by the need to please you, instead I’m offered a chance to bring reconciliation to you and your broken places (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
- I am not failing at changing the world. I have been given this very moment, this very appointment to be a woman of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
- I may be a mess, but I am not a disaster. I am God’s work: his art, his pleasure (Ephesians 2:10).
- I may feel exhausted, but I am sustained by the Love that created all other love. I cannot be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39)
- I am an imperfect friend. But I am a friend of Christ’s because he said so (John 15:15).
I want to “speak truth with integrity of heart and tongue.” That begins by knowing the truth and loving the truth. And it all goes back to how I love the God I worship. Counting nothing as more important than the love I cherish for Christ.
It may not be linear, but at least I can start with that wire as I unwrap the bundle.